The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 12th June, 1998

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Editorial - Hands off Serbia!
Lead Story - Striking to stop fire cuts.
Feature - Dounraey nuclear plant to close.
International - Ethiopia border war erupts.
British News - Left Labour MPs rebel over abolition of student grants.


Hands off Serbia!

 IT WAS clear from the start that powerful political and economic interests in Europe and the United States wanted to see the former Yugoslavia broken up. This, they hoped, would wipe out the last remnant of east European socialism.

 The fact that Yugoslavia had a mixed economy and had not been a member of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation made no difference to these capitalist powers.

 As far as they were concerned Yugoslavia still had a state sector in its economy and was not a committed market economy. It was not prepared to jump into the imperialist bed alongside the other former socialist states of Europe which had been brought to their knees by the counter-revolution in the former Soviet Union.

 A break-up policy would also make it easier for western capitalism to penetrate and dominate the economies of the tiny, fledgling republics that would emerge from the break-up.

 Once the former Soviet Union had broken apart in the after-math of the counter-revolution there was little to restrain the West from carrying out its designs on the former Warsaw Treaty countries and Yugoslavia.

 These aims were assisted by the fact that reactionary nationalist elements already existed within Yugoslavia as well as the inevitable shower of home-grown capitalist wannabees who were ready to join in the assault on Yugoslavia's unity.

 Slovenia's breakaway took place, fortunately, without the terrible bloodshed that was to follow. In a short space of time the people of Bosnia and Croatia, who had lived in peace both among themselves and with each other for many decades, found themselves embroiled in civil war. Old rivalries were dug up and picked over and religious differences that had been no problem before were used as lines of demarcation.

 The Western countries cheered the birth of each new state. They were warmly welcomed into the international arena and were greeted as heroes by the media as they started to appear at events like the Olympic Games and even the bore-athon Eurovision Song Contest.

 The Yugoslav Federation, which these statelets had broken away from, and despite it being a long-standing member of the United Nations, was denigrated. Though it was entitled to expect international recognition and respect for exercising its right to defend the sovereignty and unity of its territory, it met with condemnation and eventually economic sanctions and armed foreign intervention.

 The Federation which by now only consisted of Serbia and Montenegro was no longer referred to in the western media as the Federation of Yugoslavia -- it was reduced to just Serbia. Its efforts to defend the integrity of the Federation as a recognised sovereign state was portrayed as Serbian aggression which, the West alleged, was based on ethnic hatred.

 And now the forces backing the total break-up of Yugoslavia have turned their eyes upon Kosovo. Here the forces backing disintegration are able to exploit the fact that most of the people in Kosovo are culturally Albanian.

 A separatist military fdrce has emerged to "liberate" Kosovo. As can be clearly seen in the newsreel pictures, this force is well armed, well dressed in camouflage battledress, well shod and well fed.

 It is believable that these supplies are being funnelled through neighbouring Albania. But it is beyond all belief that Albania -- which since its return to capitalism is so poor that hundreds of thousands of its people have fled to Greece and Italy -- is footing the bill for the Kosovo separatists' arms and equipment. There can be little doubt that the money for this latest nationalist army is coming from more affluent countries in the West.

 But while western money fuels the fighting by supplying the separatist armed force, western politicians are calling for their own troops to be deployed in order to stop the Serbian forces defending what is left of the Yugoslav Federation.

 The governments of the West are still not satisfied. The attack on Serbia continues even in the post-conflict settlements the West have brokered. Whereas the divisions in Bosnia and Croatia have attempted to give ethnic Moslems and Croats their own territory no such consideration is given to the Serbs -- the Bosnian Serbs cannot join the new Yugoslav Federation, most of the Croat Serbs were driven out during the conflict.

 The suffering of the past years has paid off for western capital which has been able to make inroads into the economies of the new states.

 Imperialism can also now exercise political and strategic dominance over the region.

 We say No to British troops being deployed in Kosovo -- Imperialist Hands Off Serbia!

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Lead Story

Striking to stop fire cuts.

 by Steve Lawton

 HARDLY is one attempted cutback of the Essex fire service kicked into touch than another attack follows hot on its heels: The county's firefighters have been forced, yet again, to mobilise across the country to protect jobs, training and service conditions in the face of a £1.238 million Essex county council budget cut and at least 16 job losses.

 Following an earlier overwhelming 642 to 272 ballot for strike action -- representing 70.2 percent of the 914 voting in a force of 1,104 -- Essex FBU said firefighters' response to the call last Monday was 100 percent effective and received with tremendous support from the public.

 Every wholetime and retained FBU fire station went on strike -- including fire officers and control staff -- with a "steady stream" of non-FBU retained firefighters who made themselves "unavailable for emergency calls" coming out in support.

 Graham Noakes, Essex Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Brigade Chairman, told the New Worker that, unfortunately, the county council leaders "don't seem to have learned anything". In fact he said, "their attitude has hardened".

 Labour leader of the county's Combined Fire Authority (CFA) Tony Wright has said it is all down to a "battle of wills" and he refuses, as Graham Noakes said, to talk to the FBU.

 Southend firefighter Wayne Geaghty said: "What we went through last year seems to have counted for nothing. We do not want to walk out again, but we have got to make our point heard."

 In Southend firefighters took to the streets with placards and leaflets; motorists constantly hooted in support. In Canvey, where firefighters gathered hundreds of petition signatures, local bosses went against the mood by complaining that they should move away from the shopping area -- until the next fire.

 Basildon firefighter Dave Blaney pointed out that Essex county council is: "Taking away valuable lifesaving equipment and we can't just stand by and let them do it. The bosses are divorced from reality. It's absolutely ludicrous."

 What has been especially ludicrous, according to Graham Noakes, was clear from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU's) talks held with the CFA on Friday 29 May.

 He said they appeared not to have grasped the implications of their own logic. They told firefighters they could have the Chelmsford ariel ladder platform, but the eight jobs of the platform crew will still go. One of the two fire engine crews would then take over, and if an emergency needed both engines, one could come from a nearby station.

 But as Graham Noakes pointed out, this would obviously not only mean reducing fire crews overall, but if all the fire crews were already out, there wouldn't be anyone available to use it anyway. This is the thin end of the wedge, the FBU says. The other four platforms in Essex would also be affected.

 Chairman and Labour leader of CFA Tony Wright, played the statistics-of-use game to justify knocking out the eight platform crew so that one of two fire engine crews can staff it, while the other would go out with a nearby station engine.

 The other eight jobs would go from two foam tenders in Grays and Basildon. He was backed by all three political parties in a Labour-Liberal Democrat led administration. Both his attitude and that of Nigel Baker, chief CFA Liberal Democrat negotiator, is one of blanket opposition to FBU demands.

 Graham Noakes said firefighters were locked out before the 1Oam start and were not permitted to return until 6pm -- four hours after the 2pm end to the strike. Though on strike for four hours, they were not allowed to complete the rest of a nine-hour shift. They lose their pay for that entire shift.

 Keith Handscomb, FBU Regional Vice-Chair, said: "We are flabbergasted at the CFA's flagrant disregard for public safety demonstrated by their, in effect, doubling of this strike action unnecessarily." He pointed out that the strike was unnecessary since the county council have "ample funds available for maintaining our vital life saving service."

 The county has reserves, in fact of £26.5 million, nearly three times that in 1997. One report estimates the cost of the strike overall at £840,000, including Green Goddess cover at around £80,000 a day.

 If the proposed budget cut is not withdrawn pretty quickly -which originally envisaged another 20 job losses from five other stations, but that was fought off -- it is likely to have thrown away much of the value of the very cut it says is needed in the fire service.

 But another real threat is gradual privatisation. Graham Noakes said the fire chief decided to seek funding for the seaborne fire service through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) involving an independent company. He said this raises a lot of questions about what that covers, what the longer term meaning is of this for safety.

 There can be no question that despite new statistics showing a drop for the third year running in overall emergencies attended by the county's fire service, that a cutback is warranted on these grounds either.

 The figures are not uniform: some areas have increased,some decreased; but there has been a sharp increase in what is called special service calls -- which the budget cut is targeting. The Essex Brigade has attended more road accidents and floods, apart from dealing with a dramatic rise in hoax calls.

 As Keith Handscomb points out: "This is at a time when we are responding to more calls in an area with a growing population."

 Surveys aside, little effort is needed to calculate the risks of fire emergencies from the countywide house building thathas been going on, the growing population concentrations and increase in new industrial sites. Besides. the FBU point out that since 1990 20 firefighters have died -- fire cuts clearly kill. As they point out, one is too many.

 Once again, the Army and 45 year-old Green Goddesses, slow and increasingly prone to breakdown, have been brought into service during strike periods. Twenty-five appliances have been deployed to be manned by 370 troops from the Army's 24th Airmobile Brigade based at Colchester.

 They are being stationed in Basildon, Southend, Hadleigh, Tilbury, South Woodham and Grays. And calls were routed via fire service headquarters to the Army's 14 temporary fire bases. Ironically, the Army Goddess at Brentwood began leaking petrol and had to be made safe by firefighters just coming back on shift at 6pm.

 The FBU. as in last year's strike, are mobilising nationally. Graham Noakes said last Monday that at least 20 Brigades are already prepared for action. Today, firefighters everywhere are expected to converge on Chelmsford for a major national rally.

 They've pledged to back their Essex comrades and many have made it clear that if any Essex firefighters are sacked -- and the threats, as before, have been made -- they will in turn go on strike.

 Neil Thompson, FBU Brigade Secretary on Merseyside explained why it concerns them all: "Of course it's our business - these are our members. Whether you are a member of a trade union in Essex or a member in Strathclyde or Manchester, if you injure one of our members, then you injure all of us.

 He emphasised: "We are a national trade union and we are reacting to a national attack."

  Following today's national rally and strike, firefighters will repeat last Monday's action on 15 June.

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Dounraey nuclear plant to close.
by Caroline Colebrook
 THE GOVERNMENT last Friday announced that the Dounreay nuclear processing plant in Scotland will take no more new con tracts and will be run down and closed -- though it could take 100 years to complete the decommissioning safely.

 In the meantime another £10 million has been allocated to speed up the current work in hand so that it can be completed by 2006.

 This includes the controversial nuclear waste brought from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia when Tony Blair agreed it should be reprocessed at Dounreay after just about every other country in the world had refused to handle such dangerous stuff.

 There has been a succession of damaging accidents and revelations about lax management practices at Dounreay over the past few years.

 The site has two waste shafts containing a mixture of uranium, plutonium, sodium and potassium metals and other very dangerous substances.

 There have been no proper records of what is in them and one is at the top of a cliff that is crumbling into the sea.

 An explosion in 1977 blew the massive concrete plug off one. No one is certain of the cause of the explosion but it is thought to be ground water seeping in and coming into contact with the sodium and potassium metals.

 The government earlier this year ordered a £350-million clean up of these shafts, which will take 25 years.

 Recently a mechanical digger accidentally severed through a cable, cutting off electricity to major parts of the plant. The backup generators failed to come on.

 Government authorities then had to order the plant to shut down because the power failure meant that safety monitoring mechanisms were not working.

 And two weeks ago the Scottish National Party was calling for an inquiry into the disappearance of 170 kilogrammes of weapons-grade enriched uranium from one of the waste shafts.

 The material, which disappeared between 1965 and 1968 is enough to make 12 atomic bombs. Itis possible that the loss is due to inaccurate recording of what was supposed to be there.

 The loss came to light as the clean up of the shafts began.

 And radioactive "hot-spots" have been discovered on the foreshore near the plant.

 The main tasks of the clean up will involve:

  * decommissioning the demonstration fast breeder reactor, this has been shut since 1977;

  * decommissioning the prototype fast reactor -- the firstof its type when commissioned in 1957 but closed since 1994, this will take around 100 years.

  * removal of waste from the shafts, which will take 25 years;

  *  the clean up of 1,500 "hot spots", including the restoration of the 16th century Dounreay Castle, where several hundred cubic metres of contaminated soil have had to be removed after experiments in the 60s;

  * the removal of 200 radioactive particles from the foreshore;

  * the dismantling of former research laboratories and remote handling "caves".

 This programme means the 1,600 workers at the plant will continue to be employed for a long time to come.

 The decision to close the reactor was welcomed by Scottish environmentalists who have been campaigning for this for a long while.

 Peter Roche, speaking on behalf of Greenpeace, called for the decommissioning to begin at once and for material still awaiting processing simply to be safely stored.

 "Reprocessing is a completely unnecessary part of the decommissioning process. It means Dounreay will continue churning radioactive waste into our seas and atmosphere until 2006."

 Dounreay managers say the plant could attract reprocessing work worth £25 million over the nextten years,yielding profitsof £10 million.

 But it would cost £30 million to modernise the plant to cope with the work.

 The closure decision raises a question over the whole nuclear industry in Britain and especia Ily the reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

 This plant has also been the source of radioactive leaks as well as polluting the Irish Sea with low-grade radioactive waste.

 It has been discovered that gulls feeding on fish from this sea leave radioactive droppings.

 And the plant recently began attempting to eradicate local pigeons and is treating the carcasses as dangerous radioactive waste.

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Ethiopia border war erupts.

 ETHIOPIA and Eritrea are or the brink of war after a week of air-raids and border clasher along their entire 620 mile long frontier.

 Eritrean war-planes have hit the Ethiopian city of Mekelle, killing over 50 including children and wounding 150 more. Ethiopian jets have repeatedly raided the Eritrean capital of Asmara, targeting the airport, with the loss of at least two warplanes. One Ethiopian pilot has been taken prisoner.

 Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have engaged along the border with one town, Zalambassa, briefly falling to the Eritreans before being chased out by an Ethiopian brigade. Both sides are accusing each other of atrocities and neither side has been willing to accept African or American mediation so far.

 The dispute hinges over control of some 150 square miles along the border which Eritrea claims is theirs -- a dispute complicated by the fact that the frontier was set by Eritrea's old colonial master, Italy, back in 1885, with the feudal Ethiopian empire.

 The Eritreans have rejected calls for both sides to pull-out of the disputed region to allow for mediation and the resolution of the conflict.

 The current Eritrean and Ethiopian governments came to power when the progressive Ethiopian government of Mengistu Haile Mariam, which then controlled Eritrea, was overthrown in 1991. Today's Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders were then allies in their war to topple the Mengistu administration.

 The new Ethiopian government recognized Eritrean independence and both sides vowed to resolve any future differences amicably.

 But the Eritreans, aware of their current military strength, have been inclined to use force to settle what they consider to be outstanding accounts. Eritrea used the same tactics with Yemen in a dispute over some Red Sea islands claimed by both countries and now the Asmara government seems ready to use force again to win the day against the Ethiopians.

 The new conflict in the Horn of Africa has dominated much of the time and effort at the Organisation of African Unity summit in Burkino Faso this week.

 The African leaders are promoting an American and Rwandan call for a cease-fire followed by mediation and arbitration. Ethiopia has responded favourably but in Addis Ababa Prime Minister Meles Zenawi accused the Eritreans of stalling tactics.

 "If that's the case -- and it appears to be the case -- then the opportunities for resolving this problem peacefully could be fast disappearing," he said.

 Back in Asmara, the Eritrean leader, President Issaias Afwerki was adamant that his stand was justified by the frontiers established by the Italians and he accused the Ethiopians of effectively declaring war against his country. Both countries are amongst the poorest in the world.

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British News

Left Labour MPs rebel over abolition of student grants.
by Daphne Liddle
EDUCATION Secretary David Blunkett last week faced a revolt by 33 Labour MPs against the abolition of student maintenance grants. Thirty-one voted against the government and the other two dissidents acted as tellers. Another 15 MPs abstained.

 The Teaching and Higher Education Bill also introduces means-tested tuition fees of up to £1,000 a year, based on parental income for school leavers and the applicant's own income for mature students.

 There was no opportunity to vote on this clause as debate was guillotined.

 The government won easily -- by 313 to 176 -- in spite of the revolt.

 Brent East MP Ken Livingstone had campaigned against the Bill and had handed in a petition to Downing Street protesting about the cuts.

 He said: "This stinks. I would like to tell Tony Blair to back off and remember the benefits he had from a free education."

 Tony Benn spoke in the debate in the Commons: "This is an erosion of the whole principle of the welfare state. I benefited from a free education ... I would find it awfully hard for any MP who benefited by grants to go into the division lobbies to oppose those grants."

 Around 20 Labour MPs also abstained on another point of the Bill which would impose a surcharge on English students at Scottish universities.

 After the vote Blaenau Gwent MP Llew Smith said: "We scored the moral victory. It was imperative we defended the system of free higher education. If we dump that who's to say that we won't dump a free NHS?".

 The rebels had defied a threeline whip and an attempt by David Blunkett to soften the blow with a £143 million package to help widen access to higher education for poorer students. But it transpired that only £3 million of this was new money.

 The extra will also raise the age limit for government subsidised loans For mature students from 50 to 54, providing they can prove they intend to return to work after their course.

 The extra financial burdens for students will mean more and more will try to work their way through college, taking part-time jobs to lessen their dependence on huge loans.

 These jobs are usually the lowest paid in the retail and catering industries where employers are unsympathetic to anyone asking for time off for exam revision.

 They eat into time meant for study and revision and lead to poorer exam results.

 Even sixth form students are suffering from the effects of part-time jobs on exam results according to a submission made by the GMB general union to the Department of Trade and Industry on the European directives on the Organisation of Working Times and the Protection of Young people at Work.

 It found that some sixth-formers are working up to 30 hours a week while studying for A-levels. This amounts to a working week of 70 hours if school time is added in and leaves little time for homework and revision.

 This situation could be improved by a proposal last week from the House of Commons select committee on education for paying Child benefit of between £30 and £40 a week to students between the ages of 16 and 18 as an inducement to remain in full-time study.

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