LAST week's disruption to roads, railways and the Grand National produced the usual outpourings from the politicians and media condemning the IRA.
But as usual the British government escaped criticism even though it bears the responsibility for having rejected the chance to build a meaningful peace process on the foundation of the IRA's 18-month ceasefire, which began in August 1994.
Nor was there any attempt made to discuss the root of the problem which is British imperialism's continuing occupation of the six counties of northeast Ireland and its denial of the Irish people's right to self-determination.
Successive Labour and Liberal Democrat party leaderships have for years played along with a bi-partisan approach to northern Ireland. The result has been a totally ineffective opposition to the Tories on this issue and an absence of clear, alternative policies being put forward in Parliament.
In fact the Labour leaders seem so fearful of Michael Howard's tongue that after the events at Aintree last Saturday they almost fell over themselves in the rush to endorse the government's stone-brained, imperialist line.
And yet it's a line that can only lead to more and more misery for the peoples of both Ireland and Britain.
It is high time the Labour Party broke with the bi-partisan policy it has slavishly followed.
What is needed now from Labour, especially as it could soon form the next government, is a statement recognising that a peaceful and just solution in northern Ireland can only begin with talks and that those talks can only be meaningful and successful if all the parties are included. Talks that exclude Sinn Fein, or any other party, will inevitably fail.
Indeed a change of government could be the key to a new beginning for the peace process in Ireland since it was the Tory government's intransigence which caused the previous initiative to founder. The Tories were clearly not interested in Peace talks -- they only wanted "surrender" talks.
But the opportunity will only be seized if the Labour leadership is put under increasing pressure to change course.
It is vital to speak out and add our voices to the many Labour Party members and trade unionists who want to see progress in the struggle for peace and justice.
LAST weekend's Sunday Times published its latest "Rich List". It said that the most wealthy 500 people in Britain are collectively worth more than £86 billion pounds. The wealth of this elite has increased by 23 per cent in one year. Sixteen of these people are billionaires.
Dr Philip Beresford, who drew up the list, was quoted as saying: "Asset prices are at all-time highs. The stock market has been roaring ahead and company profits are strong, giving them the liquidity to buy other companies at fancy prices."
But while profits seat and the rich grow fatter, wages continue to be attacked and social spending is cut over and over again. We are told that the country can no longer afford to maintain the "welfare state" and the people on the lowest incomes are expected to tighten their belts.
Workers on higher incomes are being encouraged to buy into private pension and health care schemes on the grounds that the state will not be able to afford universal benefits in the future.
Ending the tax bonanza for the rich and redistributing that wealth -- wealth that working people have created -- is a fundamental and essential demand.
But none of the major parties proposes a policy of progressive taxation that even begins to restore the top levels of tax to their pre-1979 levels.
Instead they shy away from making any direct tax rises or, like the LibDems, propose very small rises. When income tax is increased it tends to hit those workers who are on average and above average incomes and, not surprisingly, alienates them from the very idea of tax increases altogether.
Labour's obvious reluctance to tackle top rates of tax for the super-rich is the albatross around the right-wing leadership's neck A strong campaign needs to be fought to end the tax bonanza for the rich and to begin restoring the savage cuts in our social wage.
Speak out for jobs, homes and trade union rights.
THOUSANDS of people are expected to join a march through central London this Saturday (12 April) to protest against rising job insecurity, social spending cuts, and increasing attacks on trade union and civil rights.
The march was originally planned to be a demonstration in support of the 500 sacked Merseyside dock workers and to build the campaign for their reinstatement.
But as support grew the organisers decided to broaden the event to enable working class people from all over Britain to speak out against the 18 years of Tory rule and to send a clear message to the incoming government.
It is a chance to let the politicians hear what we have to say instead of just hearing them talk to us.
Other unjustly sacked workers will take part in the march, this includes the Hillingdon Hospital workers and the Magnet workers.
The organisers will deliver a charter of demands to 10 Downing Street after the march.
This calls for the reinstatement of the sacked workers, the right to join a trade union and to strike, the tight to job security, the tight to a decent home and for adequate social spending on health, benefits, pensions, and education.
The Tory government and the other main party leaderships, including the Blairite clique who are responsible for writing Labour's election manifesto, have already received a blast of criticism in the past few days -- from the Council of Churches which represents Britain's 11 main Christian churches.
The 300-page report entitled Unemployment and the Future of work says the ethos of the market economy and the democratic process are failing many Britons.
The compilers of the report estimate the true figure of the number of unemployed people in Britain is 4.5 million -almost twice the official government figure.
The Rev Maxwell Craig, general secretary of Action of Churches Together in Scotland told a press conference in Glasgow that: "If these estimates are right then this document is tackling the issue for the nation at this time.
"A high level of unemployment has come to be taken as inevitable and acceptable in the national consciousness. This report does not accept that and calls for enough good work for everyone."
The report includes the call for a return to seeking the goal of full employment, Of course, the church leaders do not call for the overthrow of capitalism and the building of a socialist society, which is the only way the goal of full employment can be achieved.
But it is a welcome intervention since it helps to put joblessness and poverty higher on the election agenda and undermines the Tories' claims of presiding over a "booming" economy.
The report also argues for tax rises in order to fund job creation in the public sector.
The report says: "In the campaign, the political parties are competing for votes by promising low taxation when many are living in poverty and unemployment, it is wrong to give priority to the claims of those who are already well off."
There are no easy, short cuts to advance the interests of the working class -- although defeating the Tories on May Day is an absolutely essential first step.
But we need to do far more than simply going out to vote Labour. We also need to raise the demands of our class throughout the election period and for long after.
Saturday's match in London is one such occasion when our voices can be heard..Back to index
Trade unionists agree to city wide action plan
by Steve Lawton
Portsmouth dock's "clerk of the ropeyard" complained to Navy commissioners. He had been "much obstructed in the discharge of his duty by the mutiny of the workmen". He said: "By hasty spinning they finish what they call a day's work by dinner-time and refuse to work till four o'clock."
"yesterday, " he objected, "twenty-five of them left the work to go to the alehouse, where they still remain".
The ropemakers said the boss bore them "such malice" that they were being treated like "dogs" and "rebellious rogues. .. causing their creditors in the town not to trust them, and bringing in two of his servants, who spoil the hemp in spinning". Two of the workers were dismissed..
WHEN Portsmouth's trade unionists met last Saturday in the Lord Mayor's Suite of the Guildhall to agree to city-wide action against low pay, what happened in 1663 may not have been uppermost in their minds, but kindred spirits would have had interesting notes to exchange at this day's events.
The general secretary of public sector union Unison, Rodney Bickerstaffe, keynote speaker of the conference, said: "A nation cannot be at ease with itself whilst we have a sweatshop economy."
Reaffirming his commitment to a minimum wage, he told delegates that "a wealthy nation can afford decent pay for all it's employees". He said we "shouldn't be paying workers who care for Alzheimer's patients only £3 an hour".
He said that low pay, job insecurity, privatisation, and short term contracts are endemic in the British economy".
Contrasting high and low rates of pay, the Unison leader said that billions of pounds in state subsidy forked out for Family Credit could be saved. He argued that there would be more revenue from more workers paying income tax resulting from a minimum wage.
Rodney Bickerstaffe believes that under a Labour government with the minimum wage established, that would then lead to discussion of raising its level. He said: "Poor people in work need to be assured that every year they will get more in line with other people's rates of pay."
He told delegates that: "If Labour win, we are going to have a battle. It may be socialistic, but what we want is a fair day's pay for a fair day's work".
This is an interesting use of terms -- apparently the Unison leader had been warned, since it doesn't accord with New Labour policy, not to refer to socialism as such.
Rodney Bickerstaffe was keen that inward investment, as evidence suggests from Europe, should be based not on cheap labour considerations, but on the basis of the education, skills and abilities in Portsmouth.
Alan Burnet Labour's Parliamentary hopeful for Portsmouth South, said they live in a "low-wage, low-pay" city while agencies pay £3 an hour, they actually receive £8 an hour, he said.
The level of poverty is serious in the city. He said 20 per cent of households are in receipt of housing benefit and 44 of the 366 districts in Portsmouth are in the low-pay league "we need to campaign on their behalf", he said.
Among the measures he suggested would be the lifting of restriction on council capital receipts to release £14 million for new house building. And Compulsory Competitive Tendering should be abolished.
Secretary of Portsmouth City Unison Jim Gunston told the New Worker that two key factors motivated them to call the conference: the need to get a city-wide union-council linked action plan on low pay agreed and in the process, to raise the profile of unions.
To that effect the conference organising body, Portsmouth Trades Council, set out the issues in a resolution discussed and agreed by delegates. The resolution declared: "Low-pay is one of the most important issues facing the trade union movement and working class people."
Conference, among other matters adopted the following points:
1) To secure a national minimum wage of £4.41 per hour and operate wage bargaining from this point.
2) To launch a recruitment drive of unorganised workers and make unions accessible and subs affordable.
3) to expose low-pay bosses and extend solidarity to all workers in struggle.
It called upon the City Council and local authorities to conform to this wage minimum.
But also it urged Portsmouth council to: blank non-union staff, implement permanent contracts, push other employers in this direction, knock-back low paying bosses who are seeking council backing, end compulsory competitive tendering, reject Tory government slave labour Project Work schemes and, finally, to campaign for union-rates in youth schemes.
Jim Gunston told the New Worker that the results of the conference will be taken forward by Portsmouth Trades Council -- to the Southern and Eastern Regional TUC and particularly through the city council for further action.
BELGIAN riot police opened up with water cannon to break up a march in Brussels by Renault workers protesting at the closure of their Vilvoorde plant. Some 3,100jobs will go in July, but the workers have occupied the factory, blocking the movement of thousands of new cars. Renault also plans to sack 3,000 workers in France as part of a company austerity drive following big trading losses last year.
Last Friday's march was part of a co-ordinated day of action called by Renault workers in factories in Belgium, Spain and their parent plant in France. Many came to Brussels to join in the protest which was also supported by steelworkers from the bankrupt Belgian Forges de Clabecq which is also under threat of closure.
The marchers jeered the police with taunts of "bulldozer, bulldozer", referring to the clash the week before when Clabecq workers blocked the E19 motorway from Brussels to Paris. In a 30 minute battle, the steel workers -- armed with iron bars and two bulldozers -- wrecked seven police vans, two water cannons and an armoured car. Seventeen riot police and eight workers were injured.
The demonstrators marched from the Flemish regional government building to parliament and then to headquarters of the European Commission to demand government action to save their jobs or provide alternative employment.
Unemployment levels hit 12.8 per cent in France last February. Unemployment has risen from 3.27 million to 3.28 million according to figures based on International Labour Organisation criteria. The CGT trade union has warned that the situation will worsen when the job losses from the recent plant closures take effect and this year's school leavers join the labour market.Back to index
SOUTH WEST Trains, the privatised rail company owned by Stagecoach which earlier this year cancelled up to 200 trains a Week and caused commuter chaos, stands to make a profit of £478 million by the end of its seven-year franchise.
The figure comes from a report published last Monday which was commissioned by the pressure group Save Our Railways and carried out by Tim Powell, former director of transport studies at Coopers and Lybrand.
He found that eight of the 25 private train operators ate expected to make profits totalling between £600 million and £1.93 billion.
And he warned taxpayers they may have lost out because British Rail assets were sold too cheaply.
At the same time five other privatised rail companies are on track to make heavy losses before their franchises run out and will probably have to come cap in hand to the government for extra subsidies to bail them out.
The alternative will be for them to save money by cutting services. These companies are: Thameslink, Thames Trains, West Anglia and Great Northern, Cardiff Railways and South Wales and the West.
Another five companies are likely to have some financial difficulties: Chiltern, Cross Country, Regional Railways North West, North London Railways and the Isle of Wight's Island Line.
Keith Bill, speaking on behalf of Save Our Railways, said: "Passengers using SWT will be amazed to learn that while Stagecoach -- the train company owners -- is getting rid of drivers and cutting services they will be making huge profits, possibly as much as half a billion pounds."
The big differences in the profit expectations of the rail companies arise from the government giving much better terms to those involved in the first wave of privatisation compared with the terms offered later.
Stagecoach, ever greedy for more, has said it is willing to take over the franchises of other companies if they fail financially and have to give up their franchises.
A number of the companies described as heading for big losses dispute the figures, saying they do not take into account an expected increase in passenger numbers, though they did not say how they are going to attract more passengers while services are deteriorating.
Meanwhile the directors of the former British Rail, put in place by the Tory government to oversee its privatisation, are still on very high salaries.
BR chairperson John Welby will remain on the payroll at £271,000 a year for some years to come. He heads a board which includes four part-time directors who netted £887,000 last year and continue to preside over the residual BR with just 100 staff.
Liberal Democrat MP Ray Michie has called for improved safety measures after a passenger train was derailed last weekend on the Oban to Glasgow line.
The derailment was precipitated by a landslide along a mountainside stretch about 22 miles from Oban, which led to mud and silt falling on the track.
Railtrack and Scot Rail are investigating the incident.
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