Even then, most of the media are focusing on the long-term health problems facing western troops sent to the Gulf and the Balkans. Very little is being said about the millions of civilians in those areas who have no choice but to live with the debris from these dirty wars day in and day out.
In Iraq and Kuwait It is estimated that some 600,000lbs of DU dust and fragments still litter the ground and during that war around 100,000 rounds of DU weapons were fired by the western coalition forces. Since then Yugoslavia has been subjected to the use of DU weapons and is also contaminated.
Today, official Nato spokespersons are at pains to play-down the dangers of DU weapons, claiming that the radioactive emissions are low and therefore safe -- or so they assert.
Yet, quite apart from the fact that DU weapons pose other dangers besides that of radiation -- DU is also a heavy, and therefore dangerous, metal -- the Nato claims take no account of the high levels of disease long reported from Iraq.
Since the Gulf War the incidence of cancer in Iraq has rocketed. In particular there has been an enormous increase in the rate of cancer and leukaemia among the children.
There is also little being said about United States Army reports produced in 1990, just before the Gulf War, which warned against DU dust.
Nothing about this disgusting horror story is surprising. When we consider that Nato also used fragmentation bombs in Yugoslavia it is clear that the targets were not, as Nato claimed, purely military and strategic -- the shards of metal bursting From these anti-personnel weapons could only have been intended for "soft" targets like human bodies.
It is obvious that the British and US ruling classes don't give a monkeys about civilian casualties. While they pretend these casualties are unintended accidents (what they euphemistically call collateral damage), they also make clear that the purpose of imperialist wars like those against Iraq and Yugoslavia is to try and force the local populations to rise up against their governments in order to end the misery of the war.
In effect this is the dominant capitalist states trying to impose pussy cat governments upon other countries by using the civilian populations as hostages -- it's a case of get rid of Saddam or Milosevich or the people get it!
They don't care much about their own troops either, though they are slightly more concerned about the bad publicity the suffering of veterans might arouse. This is shown by the years of foot-dragging by the MoD and the reluctance to recognise "Gulf War Syndrome" and give proper care and compensation for the victims.
If anything exposes the anti-human nature of capitalism it is imperialist war-making.
The loss of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact has been greeted by the leading capitalist powers as a licence to kill the weak and the poor.
No longer do these powers bother to declare war, they just launch their bombers when the moon is not too bright. No longer do they formally end their wars with proper peace treaties -- the door for renewed attacks has to be permanently open. And these supposed champions of "democracy" never ask their own citizens if they agree with these bullying and murderous policies -- we are obliged to make our protests on the streets.
The most sickening thing of all is that the lackey politicians of Nato try to justify these crimes with a load of pompous hypocrisy about their "ethical foreign policies".
They shed crocodile tears about Kosovan refugees one minute and then abandon those same people to the vilifications of racists when the refugees turn up in the Western heartlands. They paint Saddam Hussein as some kind of monster while imposing sanctions on the victims of imperialism's bombing raids.
Of course DU weapons must go. But most important of all is to get rid of the beast that designed them the capitalist class and its money-driven wars!
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THE MINISTRY of Defence last week was forced into an embarrassing U-turn as Armed Forces Minister John Spellar told the House of Commons that soldiers who have served in the Balkans, who believe they have been made ill by depleted uranium (DU) weapons, could, if supported by their doctors, apply to be screened for uranium contamination.
This follows mounting alarm from other Nato forces that have served in the Balkans and found a significant number of their soldiers and other personnel subsequently contracting cancers and other radiation-related illnesses.
Only Britain and the United States have been holding out, trying to claim that these illnesses and Gulf War syndrome have nothing to do with DU.
In Portugal, the government has started screening 10,000 personnel who have served in the Balkans.
In Germany, the defence ministry is to review all cases of leukaemia in the military and Chancellor Gerhard Schroder is calling for a full investigation.
In Russia, foreign minister Igor Ivanov has called for a full inquiry. Norway is checking the health of 20,000 soldiers. Belgium has sent a health questionnaire to 12,000 troops.
Meanwhile the United Nations has made an urgent appeal to its subsidiary, the World Health Organisation, to monitor the possible risk to civilians.
Already Portuguese and Italian scientists have been wandering around affected sites in Yugoslavia in full protective clothing to assess the dangers in areas where civilians, including children, have no protection at all.
Most of the Nato governments seem pre-occupied with the risks to their troops and the prospects: that they may have to settle expensive compensation claims.
Few are showing any concern for the civilians of Yugoslavia and fewer still for the civilians in Iraq where the deadly effects of the radioactive weapons have resulted in soaring cancer rates, especially among children, and the birth of hundreds of severely deformed babies.
Like the victims of agent Orange in Vietnam, these people have little prospect of suing those who have poisoned them and so the imperialists believe they can ignore them.
The Ministry of Defence cannot pretend it does not know of the danger. In the 1990-91 Gulf War, when DU weapons were first used in anger, the MoD issued a bulletin setting out safety procedures.
Explosive ordnance disposal personnel were issued with detailed instructions to protect their health and so were the Ordnance Corps personnel involved in handling, transportation and storage of these weapons.
Yet the safety instructions were never passed on to the tank crews who used them.
Another MoD health and safety bulletin was issued in 1997 -- but not passed on to front-line forces.
Nato armies use DU weapons because DU is a widely available by-product of the nuclear power industry and is so dense that weapons containing it will penetrate armour such as tanks.
Until now the MoD and Nato, have claimed the level of radioactivity is harmless. It is what is known as alpha-particle radiation -- comparatively large particles which travel relatively slowly and have little penetration power.
Alpha radiation can be blocked by something as thin as brown wrapping paper. This is why during the Cold War, people were advised to stick brown paper over their windows if there was a threat of nuclear war. It might have stopped this one kind of radiation if it was not immediately burned or vaporised. Butwhen a DU weapon strikes, the DU coating is vaporised by the impact forming a radio-active uranium oxide gas which is spread far and wide.
Particles spread everywhere and they can be inhaled or ingested -- from dirt on the hands and face to vegettables grown in affected soil.
Once inside the body, alpha radiation can do immense harm causing cancers and interfering with reproductive systems.
And apart from the radiation, uranium oxide, like any heavy metal salt, is very poisonous in its own right as a chemical. It particularly affects the liver and kidneys and once inside the body it is very hard to get it out.
The oxide dust, being heavy, will tend to sink within disturbed soil or in sea and river sediment. It will affect root crops more than parts of plants that are above ground. And in the sea it will affect bottom feeding fish and organisms.
Concern is growing also for people living near the Solway Firth and in Cumbria where the MoD has been test firing DU weapons for years before they were used in anger. It failed to keep proper records of how many rounds have been fired into the Solway Firth.
Now it emerges the weapons have also been tested at Lulworth in Dorset. There has been so much secrecy and denial that now people living near any MoD test firing range are beginning to wonder if they are safe.
The weapons have also been tested extensively in the US and currently there are stockpiles of DU being kept in remote areas in slowly rusting tan ker containers.
The imperialists are still trying to bluster and pretend that the screening they have agreed to is "just in case" but not really neccessary.
Even the United Nations is still resisting calls to protect children and other civilians in Yugoslavia -- in contravention of the findings of its own scientists.
Last autumn a panel of experts from the UN's own environment programme recommended that all possible DU sites should be sealed off.
During Nato's war against Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosovich's government said the use of DU shells "adds a new dimension to the crime Nato perpetrated against the Yugoslav people". The new government of Vojislav Kostunica has not withdrawn this accusation.
We must support the growing international call for the complete outlawing of DU weapons and expose imperialism's crimes against civilian populations -- and its own hapless troops.
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by Caroline Colebrook
SCHOOLTEACHERS in a London Comprehensive last week voted to stop papering over the cracks of the teacher shortage crisis in the capital and take action in an effort to force the Government to address the crisis and raise teachers' pay.
Christ Church School in North Finchley is currently short of eight permanent staff and the remaining 42 teachers say they cannot provide cover unless long term replacements are found.
This will force the local authority, the London Borough of Barnet, to either find supply teachers or put the school on a four day basis.
Teachers at another school in Guildford are balloting for similar action.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, compared the effects of this action on pupils with an operation -- a little pain now to produce a long term benefit for teachers and pupils.
The National Union of Teachers is also putting pressure on schools to opt for a four day week rather than stretch teachers too far and expect them to teach too large classes.
NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy is also supporting "protective action" where there are chronic staff shortages. He said schools should move to a four day week rather than force teachcrs into the "invidious position" of having to cover for classes for which they were not qualified.
"Where it is pushing hardest, we are simply not going to be in a position of expecting schools to cover up," he added.
Figures released last week show the supply of new teachers is still in steep decline. Applications for post-graduate teaching courses were down by 2,289 -- that is 16.1 per cent -- compared to the same time last year.
This is in spite of the £6,000 training salaries and the £4,000 "golden hellos" in certain shortage subjects.
These shortage subjects are faring worse than ever now. Applications for maths teaching have fallen by almost 30 per cent and for French teaching by 21 per cent.
The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said: "These figures represent a worrying picture for the future of teacher recruitment and suggest that the crisis is likely to get worse before it gets better."
NUT assistant general secretary John Bangs said: "The Government still has not recognised the depth of the crisis."
Since then it has emerged that this year's rise for teachers is expected to be between 3.5 per cent and 3.7 per cent.
Teaching unions have described this as pathetic and it will in no way do anything to end the crisis.
Nigle de Gruchy said: "Teachers expected pretty rough treatment from the Conservatives, particularly under Mrs Thatcher.
"They expected better under New Labour. Unfortunately the gap between expectation and reality is much wider than it was under the Tories.
"The Government has become a victim of its own propaganda. It courted the right-wing media but lost the teachers in the process.
He called on Tony Blair to "pay less attention to all these specialist advisers and to try to pay far more attention to the voice of the teacher from the classroom.
He also criticised the "enormous increase" in bureaucracy and the increase in violence and indiscipline in the classroom.
"If the Government believes that 3.5 to 3.7 per cent is an adequate response to the crisis we are in, I can only say that is pathetic," he said.
And Doung McAvoy said: "An overall 3.5 per cent pay deal will not do anything to close the gap between salaries available to teachers and other professionals, which have been rising faster for several years."
Teachers in London are expecting a bigger cost of living rise of around 10 per cent. Even this will bring the starting salary of new teachers in the capital to just £17,500 a year -- nowhere near enough to have a chance of buying a house.
The NUT is campaigning for a £4,000 allowance for teachers in London.
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by Steve Lawton
THE Patten Policing reforms, unrecognisably deformed by the British government, are receiving mounting flak from Irish nationalists who warn that unless the Policing Act is amended to reflect the original proposals, the delicate yet definite progress so far achieved will be in jeopardy.
Sinn Fein had long ago lodged strong and detailed protests itemising virtually all the key provisions of the Patten Commission report which were required to be put back in -- and even that report fell short of republican demands. Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have refused to accept the British government's gutting of Patten.
But Peter Mandelson, northern Ireland secretary, said last Monday that unless they participate in the new Policing Board there would be no new police service and the core of the Good Friday Agreement would be put at risk. That's nothing short of barefaced blackmail.
The Board should consist of 10 members drawn from parties in the power-sharing Executive together with nine independents. It was expected to gear up in 'shadow' form early this month. The danger exists that a general halt to genuine reform ofthe RUC will play into hardline Unionist hands as Britain's general election focus grows, while loyalist feuding continues to fester amid the deadlock.
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), said Tuesday evening that the only solution is to amend the Police Act: "The British government must, therefore, introduce changes quickly." He said with political will this could be done in a week.
When talks between Sinn Fein and the British government adjourned inconclusively just before Christmas, Gerry Kelly was adamant that the British government had created the crisis. "Unfortunately," he said, "the militarists continue to dictate the British government's political agenda."
Alban Maginness, SDLP MLA, warned that his party could not be pressured into endorsing the reforms since "this is an issue for the whole of society." He pointed out that they were working for "a credible basis for a new beginning to policing in northern Ireland and that is not party political."
More to the point, hinting at splitting tactics, Alex Attwood, SDLP Assembly Member, said that if his Party enters the Policing Board while the nationalist and republican community does not, "this would have a much worse outcome than many others. So the real issue is let's get the outstanding issues right now so that people have what they want which is proper policing."
Talks between Sinn Fein and the British government are expected to resume soon. Contact between them, the Irish government and Washington had also been maintained over the Christmas period, Sinn Fein vice chairperson Pat Doherty said.
But he warned that if anything constructive, is to result, then there has to be more flexibility on demilitarisation and RUC reform. "We have a renewed opportunity and we hope that the British respond to that," he said. And he pointed out that Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble is in breach of the Good Friday Agreement with its ban on Sinn Fein ministers participating in north-south ministerial council meetings.
Mandelson, having steered the deforming of Patten into the Police Act, persists in pressuring the IRA to handover its weapons in the decommissioning process because the north is "awash with weapons". He should know. The greatest amount of war materiel in the north, despite some troop reductions, is, of course, British controlled.
Sinn Fein have argued that a particularly tense area of the British Army's heavy presence in south Armagh must be scaled down if there is to be real movement on demilitarisation across the board. In this respect, the policing service becomes more significant as part of the 'normalising' shift from foreign military occupation.
The Patten Commission incorporated a substantial amount of public consultation in its final proposals. The communities that participated did not explain their needs and why change was necessary in order to be shafted by the British government in Parliament.
Failing to heed the safeguards in recruitment, mechanisms of accountability. procedures of handling cross-community policing, how the force presents itself in name, and much else besides, will lead to greater tension, resentment and distrust. Over 70 per cent, across the communities, voted for the Good Friday Agreement. They own that mandate.
The British government plays the selective game of 'democracy' with a loaded dice. The process of resolving the conflict in the north of Ireland requires that the British state begins dismantling its domination. The Agreement only has meaning if this takes real shape.
Only then can the transitional institutions begin to realise their cross-community and north-south potential. Any attempt at killing off Patten's reforms amounts to sabotage in the knowledge that the past could return with a vengeance.
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AT LEAST 120 workers died in accidents on building sites last year according to a report issued last week. This is the highest annual total since 1991.
The rise in accidents coincides with a building boom, as house prices rise, especially in the south-east of England.
This has led to a shortage of skilled builders -- ironically the builders cannot necessarily afford to live in the homes they are building and like other working class groups are having to quit the south-east to find affordable homes.
So building companies are taking on cheap casual workers, many of them from eastern Europe who have not had the necessary training.
Three workers died last year on a demolition site in Hull as the building they were working on collapsed around them.
It Look 24 hours to recover the bodies of Shaughan Walsh, Tony Laughton and Dave Jowett from beneath tons of rubble.
The collapsed building had been a burnt-out warehouse which had been declared unsafe by building inspectors two months previously.
A local official of the building workers' union Ucatt said: "They should not have been working on that site at all. They should have just demolished it with machines."
The site foreman was a Kosovo Albanian who disappeared after the incident.
Kevin Walsh, brother of one of the victims, said: "People call it an incident or an accident but it is not like that for me.
"As long as I live it will be the day somebody murdered my brother, his best mate and another close friend."
Bob Blackman of the TGWU general union said: "The problem with construction is that the deaths come in ones, twos and occasionally threes and so don't make big waves.
"But you are six times more likely to die working in construction than in any other industry."
The industry also suffers from a dire shortage of Government inspectors -- just 115 officials for an industry that employs 1.5 million.
From 1996 to 1998 there were 8,724 serious injuries yet only 1,184 of these were investigated. Only a handful resulted in prosecution. Even then, fines averaged only £15,000 and many were under £1,000.
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