This great debate in London on the "Growing Threat of the Underclass" was sponsored by the Sunday Times and all it serves to do is help Dr Charles Murray promote the cranky views embodied in his 1994 book, The Bell Curve. Straw, of course, was there to argue against Murray but by doing so he gives an air of respectability to the nonsensical and dangerous ideas he claims he's trying to refute.
Murray's views, predictably based on 1Q tests, go far beyond race. He argues for the scrapping of benefit payments to single mothers claiming that single parents help create a crime ridden underclass, which he calls the "new rabble". He also calls for the total abolition of all state welfare.
In the United States Murray's book, which sold over 400,000 copies, delighted racists as it confirmed their own bigoted views. His considered opinions on welfare are music to Tory ears. He apparently helped inspire John Major's rubbishy "back to basics" campaign and Tory Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe held talks with Murray on "prison reform" when she was in the States recently.
Dr Murray's views are nothing new. The ancient slave-owning Greeks and Romans claimed that slaves were destined to be slaves even when they were still free, determined by the will of the "gods". The Hindu caste system claims that an individual's lot is either a reward or punishment for acts in a previous life.
In the hey-day of colonialism British children were told that the "white man" was superior to all others and the "British way" its highest expression. Hitler's Nazi professors used pseudo-scientific evolutionary jargon to justify the theory of the "master race" and the enslavement and extermination of those deemed useless by Nazi Germany. And in the post-war period we've had other venal academics churn out theories to justify segregation in America or apartheid in South Africa.
Straw says he deplores many of Murray's views but he believes in argument. Now some reactionary Muslim clerics argue that women are genetically inferior to men. The former Speaker of the Iranian parliament once publicly said this was obvious because women's heads were smaller than men's. If they came to Britain on a speaking tour to promote these views would a Government minister want to take part in a public debate with them? That's the difference and that's the danger.
The idea that "the poor" are actually a different breed who cannot be helped and should not he helped reflects the current thinking of the ruling class throughout the imperialist world. It justifies their own wealth, power and position and provides ammunition for further attack on state welfare and social provision. It seeks to deny the obvious fact -- equally apparent from the slave era to today -- that working people are poor because they are oppressed.
The ruling class, the capitalists, landowners, exploiters and parasites despise the very people who have created all the wealth of the world in the first place. They can despise us -- soon they will fear us.
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YET again, Irish Republicanism has shown its mettle and raised the positive stakes in the peace process. But this time there is a sense that the IRA have made a major, definitive statement. Last Saturday they declared that "the IRA leadership will initiate a process that will completely and verifiably put IRA arms beyond use."
This came just hours after two days of concentrated discussions between Prime Minister Tony Blair, Irish Premier Bertie Ahern, and the north's parties at Hillsborough Castle last week.
President Clinton applauded the IRA's announcement as a "truly historic step." Leader of the SDLP John Hume said: "It's all very positive and I want to see a positive response now from all parties."
It represents the culmination of weeks of patient talks that now envisage complete implementation of the Good Friday Agreement by June 2001 with the possibility of the Assembly and Executive being reinstated by 22 May.
The two governments set new target dates around key issues of equality, policing, criminal justice, demilitarisation and human and cultural rights. Sinn Fein are expecting early progress on these areas agreed at Hillsborough.
UUP leader David Trimble, who responded on Sunday with optimism tempered by his usual pragmatic caution, will go into session with the UUP 860-member Council to dissect the IRA's statement focusing on the practicalities of the what and how of disarmament.
Developments are awaited, but only the ultra-hardline unionists could see the IRA's magic words as simply a trick. Hence, leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and in the Tory Party argue the IRA failed to say weapons would be put permanently beyond use.
But the unionist consensus is moving ahead of this. John Taylor, Trimble's deputy and a powerful critic of Sinn Fein, has predicted that the Hillsborough proposals, if presented by Trimble, will be accepted.
The IRA rightly expect the Irish, and especially British government to "fulfil their commitments under the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Statement." The letter and spirit of this process the IRA have taken beyond what any other participant has, under intense unjust pressure to act in a unilateral way. And that's despite its dogged adherence to the most important demonstration of IRA commitment -- its ceasefire.
And to act unilaterally, without firm reciprocal and verifiable commitments from the British government and the unionists, would not only render the Catholic, nationalist and republican movement defenceless; it would be a tacit admission that unionist objections had substance.
The only substance has been in the fact that blocking tactics serve to prevent change and risk a slide backwards. Clearly, for unionists, not only the great unknown is at play here, so too are vested interests in the future economic and political shape of Ireland. And not least of course, that the republican position to achieve a united Ireland is not slipping off their agenda.
The "Group of Seven" representing a strong grouping of commercial, industrial and trade union support for the political process, urged participants to Lake the Hillsborough proposals on board last Tuesday.
The group -- Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Institute of Directors, Northern Chamber of Commerce and the Confederation of British Industry -- said Hillsborough represented a "major advance towards a durable peace and political stability."
This ought now to be the critical point at which unionists' objections are, in the main, laid to rest. The principle consideration being the regime and logistics of carrying out the IRA's disarmament.
The IRA declared they will reengage the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), headed by General John de Chastelain. Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and African National Congress Secretary General Cyril Ramaphosa will be responsible for IRA arms dump inspections.
It now means that the IRA have firmly hit the ball back into the unionists' and British government's court. This is the most pointed test ofjust how genuine the unionists can be in seeing the political process through. And it is now up to the Loyalists' armed groups to make their move. The British government's response can only be meaningful if demilitarisation were now to be immediately acted upon to rebuild all-round confidence.
On Tuesday the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) chief Sir Ronnie Flanagan announced that two military installations -- one among the nationalist people of Foyle in Derry and another in Cookstown, County Tyrone -- would be shutdown.
That is to include the observation posts in north and west Belfast and in south Armagh and a further post in the frontier town of Crossmaglen. These steps are to be taken over the next three months, Flanagan said.
South Armagh SDLP Assembly member John Fee said: "It if impossible to describe the sense of siege and occupation that has pervaded south Armagh for so long. The sense of relief for families in these areas will be overwhelming." Sinn Fein"s chief negotiator Martin McGuiness MP said this would "help create the conditions in which we can demonstrate that poll lies works."
But at the same time there is disquiet over the reaction to the Policing Commission head Chris Patten's proposals for reform of the RUC. Parliament is due to enact legislation to create the Northern Ireland Police Service.
"Any tampering with Patten," Sinn Fein vice-president Pat Docherty warned the British government on Tuesday, "would be a recipe for disaster." SDLP and Sinn Fein want rid of the title and current structure of the RUC. Bertie Ahern defends Patten's reforms.
But Patten's reforms are, nevertheless, still limited. Docherty said: "We need to establish a non-partisan, non-political police force that nationalists and republicans can recommend young nationalists to join and that will serve the entire, community."
At heart, the vast majority -- even beyond the over 70 percent cross-community vote for the Good Friday Agreement in May 1998 -- want to get to the point, as the IRA statement puts it, "in which Irish republicans, and unionists can, as equals pursue our respective political objectives peacefully."
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has joined others in a call for an independent judicial inquiry into the killing of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. This followed meetings with family members and legal representatives.
It said that the current inquiry under Sir John Stevens "does not seem to be wide-ranging enough". Commission head Prof Brice Dickson added that Sir John's record "did not inspire confidence". Stevens is now head of the Met Police.
The family of Diarmuid O'Neill said Tuesday that they will appeal against the verdict of lawful killing returned at Kingston Coroners Court in February.
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by Caroline Colebrook
THE CROWN Prosecution Service announced last Tuesday that it will not bring a prosecution against anyone in connection with the Paddington rail crash, in which 31 people died last October.
The crash happened when a crowded Great Western train collided with a Thames commuter train which was on the wrong track.
The Thames train had just passed signal 109 while it was at danger. This signal was notorious for the number of trains that had passed in at red in recent years and was reported to he difficult to see clearly.
Both drivers were among the 31 dead and in addition some 250 people were injured, many with severe burns.
Railtrack, the company responsible For the signals, and the two train operating companies have blamed each other.
The CPS Said it could not find enough evidence to prosecute. As the law stands, for a charge of corporate manslaughter to succeed, named individuals within the accused company have to be proved to be negligent.
As in similar cases, the accident was the result of a series of errors and no individual can be held totally responcible.
Currently there are proposals to change the law so that companies can be sued more easily.
Railtrack last Monday put on display the £150 million automatic train braking system it has decided to adopt -- the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) -- rather than the more expesive but more effective Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system.
Both systems are designed to prevent trains passing signals at danger. The TPWS links the train's brakes aurotnatically with the signal system. But it can fail to stop a train travelling at more than 70 miles an hour.
This means, if it had been fitted, it would probably have prevented the Paddington crash.
But it would not have prevented the September 1997 Southall disaster when a highspeed express went through an unexpected red light and ploughed into a goods train which had been given priority to cross the tracks in front of it.
The ATP system was first recommended after the inquiry into the 1988 Clapham Junction disaster where faulty wiring led to a misleading, flickering signal.
The Tory government of the day agreed to fit ATP to all trains in Britain and then dropped the plan in the run-up to rail privatisation as being too expensive.
If ATP had been fitted then, probably neither the Southall nor Ladboke Grove disasters would have happened -- and a number of other crashes.
Two years ago the Health and Safety Executive recommended that TPWS be fitted but Railtrack has only just got round to Monday's demonstration, on a track between Bromley North and Grove Park stations in south-east London.
Railtrack is seeking to convince the 25 passenger train operating companies to share the costs of TPWS.
* An industrial tribunal opened last Monday into the sacking of train driver Sarah Friday who is also a health and safety officer for the RMT transport union.
Her sacking has been the cause of three one-day strikes by RMT members at Waterloo Station.
She has been charged with "Failing to do her job properly" but the union asserts she was sacked for being assertive on health and safety issues.
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MILLIONS of workers downed tools across South Africa in a one-day general strike on Wednesday called by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in protest at massive job losses and demanding national action to boost the economy. Since 1984 over a million workers have lost their jobs. The number of employed people has now fallen to levels last seen in the 1970s. COSATU is calling on business and government to take urgent steps to end this "catastrophic" situation.
Some four million workers -- more than double COSATU's own total affiliated membership of 1.8 million -- responded to the strike call which is also backed by the South African Communist Party. Dismissing accusations that the general strike will disrupt an already weak economy, communist leader Blade Nzimande said, "There is nothing as disruptive to any economy than massive unemployment and poverty, which disrupts family life and deprives workers of their only means of livelihood. It is not the general strike by workers that is disruptive, but the ongoing investment strike by the bosses in this country,".
COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said, "The response given by the workers of South Africa to our call proves one more that the number one problem our country is facing is that of unemployment. The success of today's action comes despite massive propaganda claiming our strike to be irresponsible or mischievous, and despite much intimidation on our members to stay away. We call again on business and government to address all the demands that we have tabled,".
COSATU President Willie Madisha added, "Today's strike does not mark the end of the campaign. Our struggle for fulltime, quality jobs goes on. We will continue to press -- in negotiating forums, through NEDLAC, on the streets again if necessary -- for our demands to be addressed,".
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by Daphne Liddle
CAR WORKERS throughout the West Midlands rejoiced last week when former Rover chief executive John Towers pulled off a deal which will save the Longbridge factory for mass car production for the forseeable future.
Mr Towers bought the company for a token £10 from German owners BMW, who were in haste to get rid of the plant that has been losing too much money for a long time.
BMW even agreed to lend Tower's new company, Phoenix, £575 million to cover initial running costs.
The new deal is not without cost. Around 1,000 jobs will still be lost but it could have been 24,000 jobs in the region as a whole if BMW has turned down the deal and simply closed the plant.
Phoenix calculates that those who are laid off will get a £25,000 redundancy deal.
And the new deal may have an adverse effect on the Cowley plant near Oxford as production of the Rover 75 executive model is to be transferred from there to Longbridge.
But Cowley is to be retained by BMW to build the new Mini next year.
Unions welcomed the deal. Tony Woodley, chief negotiator for the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "We've worked extremely hard, thousands of hours of work with the towers team, to be able to limit the damage after the industrial disaster that BMW left us with."
But not all the clouds have gone away -- chiefly that the world is currently producing more cars, than it can sell. The survival of Phoenix is not guaranteed.
Business analyst Graeme Maxton said: "Phoenix is buying a marginal brand which lacks scale in a market which is consolidating. It is good for employment but I suspect this just prolongs the agony."
It is part of the madness of capitalism that workers' incomes are put in jeopardy when they are so productive the bosses can't sell all they make. Under socialism, production is planned in advance to meet real social needs -- and if a surplus is produced it leads to a cut in working time, not in jobs or wages.
Ford workers in Dagenham faced far worse news on Wednesday with the giant US-based company announcing plans to end car production at the Dagenham plant -- the oldest car factory in Britain.
Newly-elected London Mayor Ken Livingstone immediately charged Ford with breaking existing agreements with the workforce.
He pointed out that transnational companies facing problems of over-production and a need to make cut-backs pick on their British workforces because employment protection laws and redundancy provision are weaker in Britain.
It costs a company like Ford or BMW a lot less to sack a British worker than a French or German one.
So, far from attracting business to come and stay in Britain, our extra severe anti-union laws and poor protection of workers' rights, actually leads to businesses giving preferential treatment to continental workers.
Livingstone called on the Government to bring workers' protcction levels in Britain up to those in Europe.
He also pointed out the help that has been given to Ford by Britain over the years, right from when the old London County Council built huge estates in Dagenham to house the Ford workforce.
He warned Ford that if the company pulls out of Britain, it cannot expect people living here to go on buying around a third of Ford's total European production.
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