The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 11th June 2004

Union members patience wearing thin

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by Caroline Colebrook

PRIME Minister Blair last week, just a few days before the local and European elections, caved into the fuel campaigners and announced that a final decision on increasing the duty on petrol and diesel will be postponed until August.

 It was a very small concession – the increase was not due to come in until September and many things can happen between now and then.

  But it did head off a major protest campaign against him just before the polls.
troubled waters

But the issue of oil prices is not going to disappear, any more than the linked issue of Bush and Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq. And the economy is heading into troubled waters.

Last week the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (Opec) met and agreed to increase the world supply of oil in order to stem rapidly rising prices, leading to falling stock markets.

 But Opec was already producing above its agreed quota and the new increase will have taken up what little margin for expansion there was.

 Saudi Arabia – the world’s largest oil producer – led the way for the increase by declaring in advance of the Opec meeting that it would increase its supply whatever the meeting decided. But even Saudi Arabia does not have much extra margin to increase the rate of production.

 And there is a big question mark over its ability to continue to deliver as anti-western terrorism increases.

 Two British BBC journalists were shot on Monday and an American on Tuesday. The agents of the western powers and transnational oil companies are no longer safe in Saudi Arabia – and the ruling House of Saudi is looking less secure every day.

 Iraq, sitting on top of the world’s second largest oil reserves, remains in flames and its resources are currently unavailable to the imperialist powers.

 The workers of Colombia and Nigeria have been on strike. In Colombia they defeated attempts to privatise the country’s oil reserves for the benefit of the transnationals. And in Nigeria they are striking in protest at the government’s withdrawal of subsidies that make oil very cheap within the country’s domestic market – a small benefit for the people in exchange for having their environment raped by the big oil companies.

 The imperialists are still trying to oust the left wing Hugo Chavez from the presidency of Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest oil producer.

 The right wing opposition has forced a referendum but all the signs are that the mass support of the working classes will give him a resounding endorsement.

 The only bright spot on the horizon for the oil industry is the discovery of new reserves off Sao Tome and Principe off the West African coast, known as the Chocolate Islands.

 The people of these islands are among the most impoverished in the world and are not certain whether the discovery will be a blessing or a curse, as the profit-hungry sharks of the oil industry circle the waters around them.

 The place is so undeveloped that there are no traffic lights in the entire country, which is being spoken of as a new Kuwait after recent surveys indicated that up to 11 billion barrels of oil were under its territorial waters.
more of a curse

Prospects of an oil boom in the tiny former Portuguese colony on the equator have attracted a wave of charlatans and swindlers, and Sao Tome is keen to avoid becoming the next African country to prove that oil can be more of a curse than a blessing.

 But oil revenues from this field are still many years away – too far away to rescue Blair and Bush now.

 And the western powers have pressured Opec to keep the price artificially low. Petrol prices, even with significant excise duty, are ridiculously low.

 In central London the price of bottled water, at about £1.20 a litre, is well above that of oil. The pressure on oil prices to rise again is likely to be irresistible.

At home, the local and European elections are expected to increase the pressure on Blair to quit as a liability to the Labour Party’s chances in the next general election.

  Now that the people of Britain have run up record levels of personal debt, topping £1 trillion this month, the Government is considering tinkering with the credit laws – too little too late.

 The Bank of England is about to consider putting up lending rates again – and this is more likely to happen because the housing market continues to inflate while there has been a little upturn in manufacturing.

 But another rise will leave many borrowers and mortgage payers critically stretched and could lead to a housing market crash, negative equity and other problems.

 Blair is weak, he knows it and he is making concessions. Now is the time to press home vital demands like the protection and restoration of council housing and an end to privatisation of the public sector.

 Like the oil workers of Colombia and Nigeria, we should strike while the ruling class is on the back foot.
Blair may even make some concessions to save his job. He’ll still have to go though. The Labour Party needs a much better leader, with more integrity, credibility and above all, pro-working class policies. 


D-Day and the bigger picture

LAST WEEKEND saw hundreds of politicians and VIPs assembled in Normandy to mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day and use the occasion to their political advantage if they could. There were also hundreds of veterans of the event, standing with very mixed emotions: justified pride and honour, nightmare memories and sorrow for their comrades who fell. They also came in the knowledge that this will probably be the last big commemoration of the event because within a decade there will be too few survivors.

 But D-Day was not the turning point of the war. By then the Nazis were already on the run. The turning point came in November 1942, with El Alamein and with the start of the Soviet offensive at Stalingrad, where the Nazi war machine was crushed and thrown back for the first time.

 Most of the D-Day veterans would have been aware that as they were landing on the beaches of Normandy, around 1,500 miles to the east, in the Soviet Republic of Byelorussia, a far bigger battle was unfolding. All along the eastern front from Sevastopol to Finland, the Red Army was breaking through German lines, cutting them to pieces.

 Sevastopol was liberated on 9 May. D-Day began on 6 June. Then on 22 June the Red Army’s liberation of Byelorussia began. Within a month the republic was free and the German army had suffered a worse defeat than Stalingrad with 25 divisions destroyed and the loss of 350,000 casualties.

 The Red Army defeated the Nazi Army Group Centre and advanced 550-600 kilometres to the west. Fifty Soviet divisions lost more than half their troops and 17 divisions and three brigades were annihilated to a man.

 The Soviets took on and destroyed some 165 Nazi divisions while the British and American liberators of France faced 35 Nazi divisions. The opening of the second front in Normandy helped the Red Army as it liberated Europe and should be commemorated. But so should the achievements, the sacrifice and the heroism of the Red Army.

 The politicians in Normandy last weekend have their own reasons for trying to airbrush this titanic struggle out of history but they will never succeed.

Reasons to remember

Meanwhile a few dissenting voices criticise the commemoration because, they say, it continues to demonise German people, two or three generations on from the rise of Nazism.

 This is an unfortunate aspect of the western media. The true reason for continuing to remember the horrors of Nazism, and paying tribute to those who saved us from it, is to remember that fascism is a continuing danger lurking within advanced capitalism and no capitalist country should ever be complacent that “it cannot happen here”.

 The people of Britain and America are now witnessing their governments abolishing civil liberties in the name of the “war on terror” – just as the Nazis did; and making feeble excuses for the pre-emptive invasion of other non-belligerent countries – just as the Nazis did. We have no reason to feel superior to the people of Germany and anyone who does is thinking more like the Nazis, who stereotyped whole peoples as good or bad.

 But the western media play along with these ideas because they undermine working class internationalism.  

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