The major capitalist powers have, since the Second World War, been so eager to obtain plutonium for nuclear weapons that concern for public health and safety has had a very low priority.
Now we learn them are more than 500 dumps of radioactive materials scattered around the country leaking toxic waste into the earth.
Minister for Environmental Protection, Michael Meacher, has said the government will deal with the problem as soon as possible. His quick response to the news is very welcome. But just how this dreadful legacy will be dealt with is unclear.
Radioactive material is not like other pollutants -- it cannot be treated to render it harmless and can only be relocated to safer, regulated sites.
But while the government tries to tackle the nuclear waste left over from the Cold War, more is being created all the time. The nuclear recycling plant at Sellafield is still accepting more and more waste from around the world.
British Nuclear Fuels, which runs Sellafield, is reported to be planning to fly in plutonium waste from Europe and Japan.
Dr Patrick Green of the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth told the press: "We are horrified to learn that the nuclear industry is planning to fly highly radioactive waste into its new recycling plant at Sellafield. If an accident were to happen the consequences would be devastating. The government must act immediately to ban these flights".
Hear, Hear! Even if the chances of an accident are small, it is a risk that should not be taken. The government should act to stop this madness at once.
This last minute rush to serve the drinks and canapes shows just how open a race it is.
If Major had stepped down before the general election it would have been almost certain that Kenneth Clarke would have won the leadership contest quite comfortably.
But in this post-election situation Clarke has been forced into asecond round ballot and one which he could lose if his opponents concentrate their votes to defeat him. The difference lies in the sheer size of the Labour victory and the fact that the Tories lost more seats than they won on 1 May. The smaller the Conservative Parliamentary Party, the more significant the "Euro-sceptic" faction becomes. Now the Tories could end up with a leader that the majority sector of the ruling capitalist class does not want.
It explains why some members of the ruling class are, for the time being, lending their support to Tony Blair. They low he is in favour of closer ties with Europe and has a stable party to carry the project through.
We welcome the signs of growing disunity in the Tory ranks. We don't want any of their leading lights at any price. Our response to the Tory leadership election is to work to ensure they don't return and that their present leadership battle is rendered academic.
But we also need to oppose and expose the Labour leadership's stance on European integration.
The right wing in the labour movement has so far been able to carry the day on the EU by elevating the relatively small benefits that might come from the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty, even though these are not guaranteed anyway.
They have also accepted the argument that what is good for British capital is good for British workers. Such nonsense stands the truth on its head Capital makes its gains at the expense of the working class and fights tooth and nail to hold on to every crumb.
It will not suddenly be overcome by a sense of fair play and start sharing its ill-gotten booty with those who create the wealth -- the working class. Everything working class people achieve is the result of hard struggle.
The EU exists to benefit the capitalist class and is against the interests of working people everywhere. It has to be argued against rod and branch and the class reality spelt out.
Ninety per cent of the managers told the survey that health services had been rationed in their area Most thought the decisions concerning rationing were not based on medical criteria but were the result of financial pressure and tough bargaining on the part of NHS purchasers.
The serious underfunding of the NHS, which has been going on for years under the Tories, has produced a crisis mentality in the service. This was clearly shown by the fact that almost three quarters of the managers thought the NHS would "be forced to define a core service". Nearly half thought NHS patients might have to make "top-up" payments.
Already there is some debate in the media about whether or not costly treatments like kidney dialysis should be available to everyone who needs it or whether those with other medical problems or poor long-term prospects should be denied the treatment.
Ideas such as "core services" and arbitrary decisions about who certain medical treatments have to be stopped in their tracks.
They are digging the grave of the NHS and the principle of universal care upon which it was founded.
Everyone knows that a two tier health service would be one in which the better off get the top level of care and service and the working class and least well off get the bare minimum.
Right wing politicians often say more people should take out private health insurance. But Britain is a low wage economy and most people can't afford such schemes. And those same politicians who urge us to "go private" are usually the first to denounce trade unionists when they take action to win decent wages.
Anyway, why should we accept a "poor law" health service and a booming private sector for the few? Why should health be treated as just another commodity sold to the highest bidder?
The Labour government says it is committed to a health service that gives equal access to all. It has also announced in the Queen's Speech that it will redirect money from NHS administration to medical care services.
But on its own it will go nowhere near to meeting the financial needs of the NHS. It's like offering a surgeon a first aid kit to perform major surgery -- better than nothing, but the patient will almost certainly still die.
The scale of the problem is that at the end of the 1996-7 financial year, 37 health authorities in England had deficits totalling £186 million. Out of 425 hospital and community trusts, 111 had deficits totalling £123 million.
The stumbling block for the government is Chancellor Gordon Brown's aim of keeping to a "zero-based" spending review. Among other things this will mean a two-year cap on spending.
And that is the result of the government's decision to continue allowing the very rich to enjoy the generous tax rates set by Margaret Thatcher's government and its reluctance to cut defence spending.
The Department of Health is trying to square the circle by considering a separate tax for the NHS and yet another rise in prescription charges.
It is abundantly clear that the battle to save the NHS on the principles it was founded has to go on until the fight is won!
THE IMMEDIATE restoration of the link between average earnings and the basic state pension rate topped the agenda at a mecLing of campaigning pensioners in London on Thursday 5 June.
If the link had been maintained, pensioners would now be at least £2O a week better off.
And most of those present made it clear they were not happy with having to wait for the completion of Labour's review of the needs of pensioners.
That review was negotiated at last autumn's Labour Party conference as a compromise. Jack Jones, leader of the National Pensioners' Convention, agreed to drop a motion before that conference that would have committed an incoming Labour government to restore that link.
Labour leader Tony Blair was unwilling to make such a commitment and persuaded Jack Jones to accept the compromise even though the resolution had the backing of several powerful trade unions and stood a good chance of being passed.
Not surprisingly many pensioners felt betrayed by this compromise.
Jack Jones was one of the speakers at last Thursday's meeting, organised by the Greater London Pensioners' Forum and his reception there was polite but decidedly cool.
He reminded those gathered that pensioners had only ever made real progress under a Labour government and he recalled campaigns of the past. He also linked the struggle to that for a minimum wage.
"We have lost out during the last 18 years of robbery," he said. "We have seen 18 years of decline inthe basic retirement pension; 18 years of the freezing of the Christmas bonus and 18 years of erosion of the National Health Service."
Jack Jones warned that Labour would not be able to redress all this at once, but pensioners should exert the maximum pressure.
He said he was disappointed there had been no reference to pensioners' demands in the recent Queen's speech. And he also expressed concern that Frank Field had been appointed a minister within Harriet Harman's department to look at pensions and the "welfare state".
And he pointed out that today's pensioners cannot wait too long for improvement -- their life expectancy is not great.
He also spoke against the idea that it is too costly to give our pensioners a decent standard of living: "We can afford to look after pensioners, we can't afford not to look after them," he said. And he informed the audience that Britain gives the lowest proportion of its national wealth in pensions compared to any other European Union state.
Dave Prentiss, deputy general secretary ofthe public sector union Unison, stood in on the platform for that union's general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe, who had been called away for talks with Chancellor Gordon Brown.
He also brought the message that Britain is a wealthy country and can certainly afford to give its pensioners a decent living.
He gave an account of the damage done by 18 years of Tory rule. "It is particularly iniquitous that the people who fought and who rebuilt Britain after the Second World War are in the plight they are now in" he said.
Mr Prentiss said that Labour's pledge to make a marginal cut in Value Added Tax on domestic fuel was a small step in the right direction and described the commission on pensions as "only a start".
"The trade unions must not now sit back and wait for all the Tory Acts to be removed" he said.
"It will not happen unless the trade unions and the pensioners' movement keep up the pressure."
"I have faith in you. There is a lot of work still to be done."
Retired MP for Bow and Poplar Mildred Gordon spoke for the pension rights of women.
There are more women pensioners than men and a greater proportion of them have nothing to rely on except the basic state pension.
She explained what it means to live on such a low income -- if a refrigerator, washing machine or television breaks down, there is often no possibility of finding the expense of repairing or replacing.
She also attacked the equalising of the pension age at 65, depriving women of five years of pension. Women getting their pension early at 60 was always taken as an indirect recognition of the fact that their wages are lower.
Even now, decades after the Equal Pay Act women's earnings are on average only 60 to 75 per cent of men's.
Cutting women's pension rights until they are 65 will deprive each of anything up to £17,000 at current rates.
Mildred Gordon also reminded the meeting of all the unpaid work that is done by women without which society could not operate.
And she berated Tony Blair for referring to single mums as workless. "They may not be in paid employment but they are certainly not workless. Let these men try to bring up a child on their own and they will find it is damned hard work."
She also demanded the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings and recalled that this was a pledge she had made as a Labour MP on many doorsteps while canvassing over the years.
'Now I find I've been lying all these years. I've been betrayed. We've all been betrayed."
She attacked the concept now being floated by the Labour leadership of a "minimum pension guarantee" because it inevitably involves means testing.
And Mildred Gordon explained that the current basic state pension -- non means-tested -- costs 60p per person per week to administer, while a means-tested benefit would cost £5.40 per person per week to administer.
THE 26-county Irish elections last Sunday have resulted in the opposition party, Fianna Fail, dominating the new Irish Parliament (Leinster House).
For close to 30 years there has not been a majority government (83 seats are required), and the result this time means Fianna Fail can only secure control through a horse-trading alliance with Progressive Democrats as well as independents.
Fianna Fail's success has pushed the peace process to the top of the agenda. Their leader Bertie Ahern, due to be sworn in as Prime Minister on 26 June, has already given an indication of things to come with the expected inclusion of former Premier Albert Reynolds as a special peace ambassador in the talks process.
While Ahern said on Monday that Sinn Fein must now "prove" their strategy for making peace, he has annoyed Unionists by agreeing to meet Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams before he formally becomes Prime Minister. And Ahern said: "As far as I'm concerned, if they prove their part I will do everything I humanly can to move the process forward."
And that issue is clearly being addressed by both Irish and British government's who are preparing a joint analysis which aims to get the decommissioning issue underway at the talks, following US mediator George Mitchell's report.
Gerry Adams said shortly after the Westminster elections: 'Slamming doors to dialogue, marginalising and abusing people, reinforcing prejudice and mindsets, these and much much more led to a bloody cycle of conflict."
It was time to change all that he said, and they are "in a peace settlement mode". He said Sinn Fein wants a "democratic settlement which will remove forever the threat or use of force by any side." And it was time for the British government to "move decisively onto an equality of treatment agenda."
Following their success in local and Westminster elections, Sinn Fein have won the Cavan Monaghan seat in the Irish elections with others coming within a whisker of being elected on final counts.
Commenting on Sinn Fein's showing in the poll, Gerry Adams said: "As the only party of the left standing on an independent platform, Sinn Fein entered this election committed to real social, economic and political change, to eliminating poverty and to offering an effective alternative to the corruption and failed politics...of recent years."
He said they were now the "fourth largest Party on this island" and the third largest in the north. This meant, he went on, that "the British government must respect the mandate which the electorate has given Sinn Fein over three elections."
The northern Ireland Alliance party leader Lord Alderdice said: "The position of Sinn Fein is likely to be more significant in terms of that parliament than it has been for years. I think that what has happened is a major development and realignment in politics, and it will not be without its very significant impacts."
On Tuesday, speaking after a plenary session of Stormont talks from which Sinn Fein are still excluded northem Ireland secretary Dr Mo Mowlam said: "We arenot going to go into long drawn-out meetings with them. We may have one more meeting, but nothing has been finally settled yet."
Although she has had two meetings over recent weeks with Sinn Fein, she said this does not represent a parallel set of talks. The Stormont talks, one year down the line, are still jammed on decommissioning.
And any accommodation which Dr Mo Mowlam believes is still achievable at the current Stormont talks, will eventually have to recognise Gerry Adams' point that if there is to be a resolution of the conflict an "inclusive process of negotiations", targeting "specifically that of decommissioning" is vital.
* Clara Reilly, spokesperson for the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets (UCAPB), said the so-called admission that plastic bullets used in last year's disturbances by the RUC and British Army were "faulty", was yet another excuse for blatant misuse.
She said: "This is a feeble attempt to counteract the irrefutable evidence that plastic bullets are by their very nature lethal weapons which cause death and homfic injuries.
She called upon the British government to act: "Before another child is murdered or another person suffers the loss of their sight the Labour government should honour their pre-election policy and ban these lethal weapons immediately."
Fianna Fail(FF): 68; Fine Gael: 47; Irish Labour Party: 32; Progressive Democrats (PD): 8; Democratic Left (DL): 6; Green Party: 1
FF: 77 (39.3 per cent of vote); Fine Gael: 54 (27.9); Irish Labour Party: 17 (10.4); PD: 4 (4.7); DL:4 (2.5); Green Party: 2 (2.8); Sim Fein: 1 (2.5); others: 7 (9.8).
166-seat parliament elected through proportional representation by 41 constituencies in 26 counties and 2,707,498 voters.
FOR TWO years running the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has been struck by enormous floods which have devastated one third of the country and particularly areas of agriculture (we must remember that 85 per cent of north Korea is mountainous).
At present the DPRK is going through serious difficulties in overcoming the consequences of these natural disasters, despite the efficient measuresbeing taken by the government and the large national solidarity movement of the population.
This series of natural disasters has weakened this small country, which was already facing economic problems due to the fall of the socialist countries of Europe -- countries with whom the major part of its economic relations were developed. And also during this period the blockade by the United States and its allies was reinforced in order to try to economically stifle the country and to eliminate its socialist regime.
Not only was virtually all the harvest destroyed for two consecutive years but the earth itself was seriously damaged -- in some places the soil has been eroded to a depth of one meter. Irrigation systems were also destroyed, to say nothing of the equipment (roads, bridges, railways, barrages, electric Lines) and buildings (houses, public places and factories) which were ravaged by the floods.
Foreign observers will have seen that the courage of the people, the efficiency of the north Korean social system and the measures taken by the government, with the support of international humanitarian help, have overcome a great deal of the damage.
But a major problem still remains: the problem of food. In fact the food stocks are exhausted and, even if all goes well, the next grain harvest is not due for another two months.
The situation is all the more worrying because the international humanitarian aid requested by the DPRK government to help with these natural disasters has so far been only fulfilled by one third. (The World Food Plan of the United Nations estimates 1.3 million tons of supplies is needed).
The DPRK government stresses the importance of the efforts made by the international humanitarian organisations. But one may remark that the governmental help of several countries, in response to the call of the UN (which asks for $126 million), has only raised $34 million out of the $95 million that has been promised.
Representatives of the World Food Plan in the DPRK have launched an urgent appeal to several countries. The government of the DPRK has also called for the lifting of the "economic sanctions" that were imposed under pressure from the US and its allies.
How can anyone not be shocked by the inhuman attitude of the south Korean authorities, knowing of the tragedy experienced by their compatriots in the north, who want food aid to be made dependant upon political demands.
This is in contrast to the situation in 1984 when a typhoon struck part of south Korea and the DPRK gave grain, medicines and cement to its compatriots in the south without any conditions and without any ulterior political motive.
The south Korean people, moved by the situation facing their compatriots in the north, condemn this inhuman attitude on the part of the south Korean authorities. This isall the more so since the authorities in the south have just declared solidarity help from non-governmental and religious organisations in the south to be "illegal".
In its hysteria towards the DPRK the south Korean regime is once again contradicting itself. First it asserts that "starvation in the north is going to provoke the fall of the regime", then it says that "north Koreans are putting forward their difficulties and dramatising things for political reasons" and even that "the situation must be aggravated so that the communist regime could collapse". What cynicism in the face of such a human drama!
Cilreco asks all forces which support its action of solidarity will; the Korean people, all social and humanitarian organisations to apply to governments so that they contribute to urgently bringing their food help asked for by the World Food Plan. In the face of such a human drama the solidarity is a must that no one should bargain over!
Cilreco also launches an urgent call to the friends of the Korean people so they can clearly express their solidarity in the face of this human drama by giving immediate financial help which will allow the purchase of food supplies.
In Britain the British Korea Flood Relief Appeal has been launched.
Further information can be obtained by writing to:
Korea Flood Relief Appeal, BCM Box 1322, London, WCIX 3XX.Back to index
An inquest jury was told last week that Peter Austin hung from his T-shirt in the cell for ten minutes before the guards entered and took him down, while the bail hearing was conducted in the cell.
Coroner Dr John Burton told the jury at Hammersmith Crown Court: "The facts you are about to hear are so improbable that if you saw them written down you would not believe them."
The alarm was raised by Mr Austin's barrister, Stuart Armstrong, who, knowing his client's record of ill health, decided to check upon how he was.
Already that morning Austin had asked to see a doctor and had appeared dazed, distressed and had blood in his mouth.
Mr Armstrong told the Coroner's Court: "After about half an hour I decided to go and see him and see how he was bearing up. As I opened the flap [in the cell door] I saw him apparently hanging."
The lawyer called the jailers who told him: 'If we are quiet and don't let him know we are here. he will move.."
Mr Armstrong continued: "I expressed my concern that if he was acting I thought he was bloody convincing. I said somebody ought to go in."
The guards refused to do this without their superior, Robin Clark, who arrived soon after.
"Mr Clark went to the door, looked in and he said, word for word to me, 'Cheeky bugger', he just winked at me'."
Mr Armstrong then fetched the magistrates and the Crown Prosecution Service representative from the court and brought them to the cell.
"When we went down, Mr Austin's cell door was shut and he was lying face down on the ground not moving," Mr Armstrong continued.
"I asked him to give his name and there was no response. I tried to talk to him but of course there was no response.
The prosecution was told to start outlining the case. He had been doing this for a few minutes when Mr Clark interrupted and said because Mr Austin still hadn't moved he was obliged to check he was all right."
The magistrates and lawyers left the cell, only to be told shortly afterwards by Mr Clark: "I think he is dead".
Only then was an ambulance called. The hearing continues as we go to press.