The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 11th December, 1998

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Editorial - Looking for cures.
Lead Story - Pinochet to face justice.
Feature - Student fees protest escalates.
International - West Bank erupts on Intifada day.
British News - Tameside care workers fight for jobs.


Looking for cures

 AT long last a bit of reality has broken through and some big business figures and City experts are beginning to say out loud that there is a crisis and, what's more, that it stems from capitalism. Even the wealthy financial speculator, George Sores, has announced that "capitalism is in crisis".

 At least they've got the diagnosis right. But none of these supporters of the system can come up with a cure. They offer up all sorts of suggestions -- cutting interest rates, "talking up" a mood of confidence to boost retailing, keeping strict control of inflation and so on.

 None of these ideas will stop the recession in its tracks and they certainly won't make the worldwide crisis go away.

 The capitalist system is full of contradictions. Because of this, government efforts to head-off trouble cannot succeed.

 Many people put great trust in the idea of cutting interest rates. This, they hope, will help to weaken the pound and thus make exports more competitive. It is also hoped that by bringing down the cost of borrowing, including mortgage lending rates, people will have more money to spend and that in turn will stimulate production and the economy as a whole.

 The trouble is that Britain is not the only country turning to this idea. If other countries also cut interest rates and follow the same path, the pound will still end up with much the same relative value.

 And even if the lower cost of borrowing does give consumers a little more money it is very unlikely they will be rushing down the High Street on a spending binge because they fear for their jobs and the future -- the "rainy-day" account is a much more likely home for any spare cash these days, not to mention the fact that many people would see any bunce immediately swallowed by their bank overdraft or some other debt account.

Then of course there's the contradiction -- governments don't really want people to spend a lot because they are afraid this would increase foreign imports and upset the balance of trade as well as raising the rate of inflation. So, they want more spending to stimulate the economy and then again they don't because that would upset other aspects of the economy.

 The whole system is like this all the time. When the capitalist has his bosses hat on he wants to cut labour costs to boost profits. That means struggling to keep wages down. But when the same capitalist has his traders hat on and wants to sell the goods the low paid workers have made, he wants everyone to buy, buy, buy -- trouble is the workers who are also the consumers are not well enough paid to buy all the goods.

 The capitalist gets round this problem by offering the worker/consumer easy credit. We hear the adverts every day -- "nothing to pay for a year", "get an interest-free loan today", "easy-payment scheme plus free servicing for two years" and on and on.

 So the under-paid worker is pestered to spend -- not only what is earned today, but what might be earned tomorrow as well. Even for the capitalist this short-term method can't solve the problems for very long because the customers are all up to their ears in debt after a few years and can't take on any more.

 When recession strikes the capitalist class has of course only one concern -- itself. That is why all the earnest debate in the financial pages of the press and on the television is centred on such things as the effect this or that government measure will have on the City, on the FTSE index, on the banks, on major manufacturing, on currency trading and the rest. It is never centred around its effect on working people even though, whatever happens, they will be hardest hit of all.

 It is as though people who may face a long stretch on the dole with only a pittance to live on are expected to worry about the problems of some captain of industry or merchant banker who might have to sell the Rolls and buy a Jaguar instead.

 The truth is, capitalism is long past its sell-by date and completely fails the majority of the world's peoples. It has absolutely nothing to offer us apart from a great deal of worry, debt, poverty, unemployment and insecurity.

 Change is long overdue. It is time the people who produce all the goods, the food and provide all our services, came first. It is time the majority really did rule. The cure is not a pill for capitalism but a whole new society -- a socialist society in which the needs of the people are at the centre of the stage.

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Lead Story

Pinochet to face justice

by Daphne Liddle
 PEOPLE rejoiced throughout the world last Wednesday night as news broke of Home Secretary Jack Straw's ruling that the former Chilean dictator should not be freed but should stay in Britain to face the extradition process begun by the Spanish government.

 He is charged with crimes against humanity by a group of Spanish magistrates and their government has backed their application for extradition.

 Now the old torturer -- responsible for at least 3,000 murders of political opponents including the democratically elected President Salvador Allende and countless disappearances, torturings and illegal imprisonings -- will face a magistrates court next to Belmarsh Prison, near Woolwich, south London on Friday.

lengthy process

 The legal process could be lengthy and he is far from delivered to the Spanish courts yet.

 But Jack Straw's decision gives an indication that the tide is turning against Pinochet -- even in ruling class circles.

 Even when and if Pinochet makes it to a Spanish court, he is unlikely to spend a long time in prison. Their judicial system is compassionate to those over 75 and allows their release to house arrest if lawyers press for it.

 But those who have campaigned so hard over the last six weeks are mostly concerned that Pinochet is brought to court, for his crimes to be brought out into the light of day -- and for the forces of imperialism that backed him and supported him to be exposed as well.
 The organisation of Chileans it exile described Jack Straw's decision as "a wonderful move".

 Amnesty International spokesperson Richard Bunting said: "Torturers will no longer be able to commit their crimes with impunity," and said the decision signals a new era in human rights".

 Clive Solely MP said: "The message is clear to all dictators, you can assume the rule of law will apply."

 Liberal Democrat spokesperson Alan Beith said: "This is a case where justice must be seen to be done."

 Of course the "rule of law" is a product of the bourgeois society we are living in and imperialists will change international laws all the time to suit their needs. It is not something abstract or absolute but founded in current class power relationships.

 But it is a sign to ageing butchers like Pinochet that their imperialist backers will desert them when they become more embarrassing than useful. And the pressure of global public opinion has had some impact in this case.

 It should encourage workers and progressives all around the world in the fight against all imperialist injustice. The struggle is not hopeless.

 The only people not happy are Lady Thatcher, the Tory party leadership, and around 300 wealthy Chilean supporters of Pinochet who arrived recently in Britain by charter plane to lobby for his release.

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Student fees protest escalates
by Caroline Colebrook
 STUDENTS throughout Britain are rallying to support the cause of a group of Oxford students who are protesting at the introduction of student tuition fees by refusing to pay them.

 The lead in this battle was given by two young women, Kate Atkinson and Alice Nash, who have just started their courses at Balliol College Oxford.

They began with very high A level grades and the promise of high-flying academic careers.

 Last Friday, the last day of term, was the deadline for the payment and now these two students will be suspended as from the beginning of next term.

 Already their names have been passed to university authorities and they will be banned from taking exams. If they do nor pay by the end of next term they will face eviction from their residency.

 But by last Friday they had attracted support from other students at Oxford and throughout the country.

 As the deadline approached a colourful protest gathering of around 350 students picketed the Bodleian Library -- from which the two will be banned.

 Another 12 students have refused to pay their fees. Some have paid the money into a special no-payment campaign fund.

 They plan to hold out until the last possible moment in order to draw public attention to the protest.

 Ms Nash and Ms Atkinson said: "We are not wanting to draw attention to ourselves so much as the protest and the principle.

 "The government can't get away with this. It'll affect future generations." They both have the backing of their parents.

 They have had phone calls and fares expressing support from colleges all over the country. And nearer to home dons were among those who rang bicycle bells in support as they passed the protesting students.

 The Oxford University Student Union president, Josh Bell, said: "The situation has come to a head because students are being targeted with expulsion for political reasons.

 "We are campaigning for 1979 levels of grants and all student campaigning has been in line with the Campaign for Free Education, which demands the reinstatement of grants.

 "Axing the grant was even more indefensible than bringing in fees, but we are campaigning on fees because you can withhold payment."

 * Cambridge University this year accepted fewer state school pupils in spite of a high-profile campaign to persuade them to apply.

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West Bank erupts on Intifada day

by Our Middle East Affairs Correspondent
PALESTINIANS went on general strike and clashed with Israeli soldiers and settlers throughout the West Bank on Wednesday, the 11th anniversary of the start of the Intifada, the uprising against Israeli occupation.

 All Palestinian shops, businesses and schools closed to mark the civilian uprising which began in the Gaza Strip in 1987 and carried on until the signing of the "autonomy" agreements in 1993.

 But it was as if nothing had changed this week as Palestinian youths armed with stones and petrol bombs confronted Israeli troops and armed settlers demanding the release of over 2,000 Palestinian freedom-fighters held in Israeli dungeons and the end to the occupation.

 The hard-line Likud government in Tel Aviv is now refusing to honour the Wye Plantation agreement unless Yasser Arafat's Palestine Authority, which administers the "autonomous" zones, backs down on the prisoners issue and withdraws his threat to declare Palestinian independence next year.

 Throughout the week clashes have taken place throughout the parts of the West Bank still held by the Israeli army. Israeli troops have opened up with rubber-coated bullets, tear-gas and live ammunition wounding many Palestinians. Several Israeli soldiers and Zionist settlers have been injured as well in the fighting. And the violence has spread into the self-governing areas as the Palestinian police move to disperse anti-Arafat Islamic fundamentalist demonstrations.

 So far Israel has only pulled-out of two per cent of the 13 agreed under the Wye Plantation deal signed last month. Most Arabs believe that Israeli premier Benyamin Netanyahu has no intendon of complying with the agreement brokered by US President Bill Clinton, and that he will opt for early elections within the next few weeks.


 But the upsurge of violence. on the eve of the upcoming visit by the American President, has considerably embarrassed Netanyahu. It has demonstrated to Presidential envoy Dennis Ross -- already in Tel Aviv -- that Israel cannot peacefully hold the West Bank indefinitely and it puts more pressure on Clinton to ensure that the interim deal he helped draw up is upheld.

 Clinton, who is due in on Saturday, is set for talks with Israeli leaders and plans to make a keynote address to the Palestinian parliament in Gaza City. His visit was initially welcomed by the Tel Aviv government. Now they've got second thoughts.

 "If he wants to come, he should come. If he does not want to come, he should not come," a surly Netanyahu said this week. The Israeli premier is facing a revolt from fanatical Arab-haters in his own ranks and a no-confidence motion in the Israeli parliament the Knesset, within the fortnight.

 The opposition Labour Party, backed by the communists and the Arab bloc in the Knesset, must hope that the Likud-led coalition will fracture in advance. Just one or two defections would be enough to bring down the government.

 US strategy has simply been to try and get both parties back to the letter of the Wye deal. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat will have no problem -- he's simply demanding that Netanyahu stick to what was agreed.

 Netanyahu on the other hand is in deep trouble. If he does resume the troop withdrawals -- and some Israeli politicians think he will have to -- then he will have to face down a parliamentary revolt in his own ranks.

 He could then appeal to Labour to back him in a grand coalition to see the agreement through. But he fears this could provoke a damaging internal challenge to his leadership. And he must know that Labour scent blood and would soon want new elections anyway.

 Once again the initiative lies with the Palestinian masses in the streets of the towns and villages of the West Bank. There can be no peace unless their legitimate rights are restored.

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British News

Tameside care workers fight for jobs
 A GROUP of over 200 carers from 12 residential homes for the elderly in Tameside is still fighting for justice after they were sacked for refusing to sign new work contracts last March.

 The new contracts would have cut their pay by up to £2.05 an hour with no company sick pay, reduced holidays and reduced bank holiday pay.

 Tameside's Labour council transferred its residential homes for the elderly to the private sector in 1990 under the Community Care Act. Twelve of them went to Tameside Enterprises (TEL). which is 16 per cent owned by the council.

 Care workers accepted the transfer on the basis that their local government pay and condtions would be maintained and that if the transfer failed, the local authority would resume ownership and control of the homes.

 The remaining shares were held by Tameside Community Care Trust. A director, Paul Stonier was appointed in spite of having no experience of running homes, at a salary of £35,000.

 In 1993 that salary was increased to £80,000. TEL had debts of over £2 million which it blamed on cuts in council grants and a slower than expected turnover of residents -- they just weren't dying fast enough.

 TEL was investigated by the fraud squad and the auditor refused to sign the accounts. Stonier was sacked for gross misconduct.

 The council and the Co-operative Bank put together an emergency package and the Tameside Care Group (TCG) was formed. The council holds a "golden share" in TCG and a new managing director, Alan Firth, was appointed on a salary of over £40,000.

 The legal agreement on wages and conditions was ignored. Carers' pay was cut 10 per cent and there were drastic cuts in sick pay and shift pay. Then there were no pay rises for five years.

 In 1997 TCG made a profit of £750,000 and the workers lodged a pay claim.

 On New Year's Eve, instead of giving a rise, Alan Firth gave carers 90-day notice of termination of their contracts.

 They were offered new contracts with pay cuts from £4.50 to £3.60, night carers from £5.68 to £3.60 and domestics from £4.05 to £3.25, with reduced holidays, reduced pay for bank holidays and no company sick pay. Four are threatened with the sack.

 At the end of the 90 days. in March, over 200 carers decided to strike and started picketing.

 TCG used scab labour from staffing agencies at higher rates of pay and taxied them to and from work.

 The deadline was shifted a couple of times but by the beginning of June, workers who had not signed the new contracts were sacked.

 Inside the homes, conditions are worsening. One resident waited 12 days for heart medication and was investigated for complaining about it. Another went for four weeks without a bath. Three fires have been reported in one home.

 The workers have received great support from local pensioners, housewives, unwaged workers and students who have joined the picket line.

 But the council has responded by withdrawing facilities from the local Unison branch secretary and warning council employees of disciplinary action if they support picket lines.

 For further information, and to offer solidarity and support. Phone the Picket Office 0161 308 2452, fax 0161 339 2571.

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