Yet this brief period of economic respite does not mean everything is rosy. Even now millions of US and European workers are out of work while those with jobs are forced to work longer hours and put up with worsening conditions at the workplace. And within these advanced industrial countries there are wide regional differences and areas of widespread poverty.
British records show the gap between rich and poor is widening -- a trend found in all capitalist countries. And how could it be otherwise when the entire system is based upon exploitation?
And even this brief period of economic upturn, is only on the surface. The capitalist system throughout the world continues to be in deepening crisis because the fundamental contradictions within the system cannot be resolved. Attempts to alleviate the crisis amount to the rich screwing more and more from the working class and poorest people.
A system which is based on the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor is bound to create the most extreme levels of human suffering in the poorest countries.
It is therefore not surprising that the news from Africa -- the world's poorest continent -- is so distressing. Catastrophes have followed each other in recent months. These include natural disasters like the severe flooding in Mozambique and Madagascar and another disastrous drought in Ethiopia. And it must be noted that many are likely to die unnecessarily in these disasters because of the overwhelming poverty of these countries.
There have also been problems of social distress such as the cult killings in Uganda -- another by-product of poverty and insecurity. And now the struggle over land ownership has come to the forefront in Zimbabwe -- a legacy of British colonial rule and the continuing injustice left in its wake.
Of course for the famine-hit horn of Africa and the flooded south east of the continent, the immediate need is to get food, medicines and other emergency aid to the disaster-hit areas. Governments, the United Nations and other international agencies must respond quickly and effectively.
But these demands should go hand in hand with the questions -- why is it that Africa is so poor when it has the richest mineral and natural resources in the world? Where has the wealth of Africa gone?
Quite literally the wealth of Africa can be seen sparkling around the necks and fingers of wealthy people in wealthy countries. It can be found in the fuel chambers of nuclear power plants providing weapons of mass destruction for the powerful to threaten the weak. It panels the walls of corporate boardrooms and palatial houses. It lies in other countries' bank vaults in shining heaps all duly stamped and counted.
Nor can all of this be the result of fair trade. If that was the case the countries of Africa would have gained wealth of equal value in return. The truth is that Africa has been ravaged by the long years of European colonial rule, further years of neo-colonial domination by the imperialist powers and is still being bled dry by capitalist moneylenders, stitched up by commodity markets in the world's big financial centres and bullied by big power trading organisations.
The beneficiaries of this plundering spare no effort nor baulk at any dirty war to keep African divided from African, to divert the people's attention away from their exploiters and to conceal their crimes from the eyes of working people in their home countries.
To this end Africa was carved up by the colonialists in an arbitrary way. A foreign religion was foisted upon the people to help pacify unrest. Still today internal divisions are encouraged by the imperialists who directly, or indirectly through third countries, provide weapons and promises to local would-be leaders. Aid is used as a weapon to control governments and every penny comes with strings attached.
If anything reveals the capitalist system for the inhuman and barbarous force that it is, it is the crimes committed against the hard working and struggling people of Africa. We need to do much more than give aid to Africa -- we must step up our struggle for socialism and peace and speed capitalism's overdue demise.
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NATIONAL Front scum failed to reach the Clock Tower on Margate sea front last Saturday as anti-fascist protesters held the line against them.
Police vans were driven against the anti-fascists, to force them back. But against all odds they valiantly held their ground and stopped the NF short of their objective.
The National Front had organised their march last Saturday not only to incite race hatred against the asylum seekers who are housed in the Kent seaside town in the under-used hotels but also to back up the local election campaign.
For the past few weeks there have been articles and letters in the local press whipping up local feeling against immigrants.
National Front leaflets designed to stir up race hatred were being handed out claiming that "bogus asylum seekers are swamping your area" and "these refugees are just getting a free ride on our economy".
But local anti-racist supporters had also been working in the town, giving out leaflets and calling for support to stop the NF march.
They had some success and a couple of hundred people gathered on the esplanade to make their feelings known.
On the other side of the road, however, local NF sympathisers gathered to wait for the NF members who arrived by train by arrangement with the police.
As soon as they were seen off the train they were immediately surrounded by a strong police cordon.
While waiting for the police to get themselves into a military formation, they held a short rally with some ragged singing of Rule Britannia, displaying their banners with: "No room here" and placards saying: "Stop immigration, start repatriation" and set off on their short march.
The counter demonstration linked arms in a line across the road with a determined shout of: "Nazi scum off our streets".
The initial confrontation between police and anti-fascists lasted about half an hour with the NF jeering and shouting abuse and urging police drivers to "run them over".
Snarling, yelping police dogs were restrained by their handlers as the anti-fascists, led by the Anti-Nazi League, refused to allow the neo-Nazis to freely march along the Margate esplanade.
An anti-fascist veteran of over 20 years experience told the new Worker: "I have never seen police dogs so out of control, in fact you have to be here to believe it."
When the ANL Line finally had to give way there was some scuffling with police and five anti-fascist protesters were arrested as a result of determined "snatch squads" organised by the police.
But the demonstrators reformed and prevented the police and fascists from reaching their objective.
It took an hour-and-a-half and about 400 police in full riot gear, flakjackets and shields, snarling police dogs, police vans used as battering rams, surrounding some 50 NF marchers in a double cordon to force the way along 500 yards of the seafront from the railway station to near the Clock Tower.
Kent police were obviously well prepared to support the NF, mounting a massive military-style operation to allow them to march.
The coach carrying anti-fascist protesters was stopped on the outskirts of Margate. All the passengers were carefully searched and their names and addresses taken down. The coach and bags on it were all inspected, even people's diaries were looked at.
Very politely the officers explained that they were operating under the section of the new Criminal Justice Act as they unwrapped the Anti-Nazi League banner, spread it on the ground and then confiscated the banner poles.
The coach driver was rather surprised when they removed the handle of the broom he used to sweep the coach out!
Having failed to reach the Clock Tower, the police finally turned their vans round to escort the neo-Nazis back to the station and put them on the train.
Counter demonstrators were held back by a line of officers until they received a message from HQ that the neo-Nazis were safe on their train, before they were allowed to go home.
All this fits in with Government policy of appealing to the lowest common denominator in the debate about refugees.
Hence the demeaning voucher system, dispersal to places all over the country and the length of time refugees have to wait before they get a decision on their asylum claim.
Both the Tory party and a large part of the press are playing the same tune. One is desperate for votes and the other to sell dubious newspapers.
Saturday in Margate demostrated that there are people and organisations of integrity who are prepared to stand against it.
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by Caroline Colebrook
WOMEN in labour could be forced to travel up to 80 miles if new proposals for the merging of maternity units throughout the country go ahead.
The proposals from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Paediatricians are claimed to be essential because of a lack of experts.
Their report, Reconfiguring Matrmiry Services says that the NHS has 1,600 fewer specialists than it needs to maintain childbirth services at full level. It also says there is a shortage ofaround 2,500 midwives.
The report says a major shakeup cannot be avoided and puts forward the mergers as an opinion. Professor James Drife said: "In big cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh there have already been merger; of big units, which may not be of such concern because they are almost side by side.
"But what has caused concern is that in places such as Huddersfield and Halifax, where the plan is already well advanced, one or other loses its maternity unit.
"Each town is fighting tooth and nail not to be the one."
The Royal College of Midwives says that currently a third of maternity units fail to provide one-to-one care and half of all deliveries are performed by consultants.
The report also says that the European Working Time Directive puts limits on the hours NHS employees can work.
Some maternity units are having problems meeting their legal obligation to provide a 24-hour service.
The report says another 215 consultants are needed yet the Government has put a cap on the number of new consultant posts that can be created.
Already the shortage of staff on many maternity wards has led to some in large teaching hospitals being forced to put a temporary bar on emergency admissions by ambulance.
Health Secretary Alan Milburn said the report would be considered as part of a wider plan to modernise the NHS.
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By Our Irish Affairs Correspondent
SINN FEIN'S Ard Fheis met in Dublin last weekend amid what the Party's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness MP said was a "very significant crisis" in the Irish peace process.
Party President Gerry Adams MP, in his address, said that when the British government on 11 February endorsed the unionist condition that the Northern Ireland Assembly's role was dependent on IRA disarmament that was the "biggest single mistake by the British Labour Party since it took power in May 1997."
He recognised that "most nationalists and all republicans", after "two years of time wasting and obstructionist poll ties by unionists" would today say that the GFA was "dead".
This reflects the collective frustration and anger felt by republicans at the turn of events. Conference delegates voiced strident criticism of the British government -- especially Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson -- for its crucial act in terminating the fledgling Northern Ireland Assembly institutions.
Martin McGuinness told delegates that this, "more than any other political decision" had brought the peace process to its "greatest low". It was unanimously agreed, in a Kerry motion, that the rug was pulled out "by Peter Mandelson at the behest of the Ulster Unionist Party in direct contravention of both the letter and spirit of the agreement, as overwhelmingly endorsed by the people in the North and South by referendum in May 1998."
But Gerry Adams also explained the underlying significance of getting this far. "One of the most compelling arguments in favour of the agreement is that, for the first time, a British government and others were made to face up to what is wrong in the North." He said "this is ground gained which must never be conceded."
He accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair, even before "the ink was dry on the agreement", of stepping "outside the framework" to accommodate Unionist objections. "From then on this issue (of arms decommissioning) was treated as an issue of tactical political management."
The moment the unionist card came into play outside the terms of the agreement, "the current vacuum was a crisis waiting to happen." This "flaw" has "subverted all of Sinn Fein's efforts to resolve the arms issue," he said.
He said that Sinn Fein stretched their obligations under the terms of the agreement to the limits. And, recognising that some may be concerned by aspects of their leadership, he said that Sinn Fein "will continue to support efforts to resolve the arms issue."
The finger ultimately pointed at the British government on all the crucial issues, however Unionism acts. In fact, the British government have clearly notonly subverted Sinn Fein's efforts but also pro-Agreement unionists.
"We will continue to do our best" Gerry Adams said, "but if a British government with all of its military firepower and muscle, could not get an IRA surrender in 30 years of war, then unionist leaders or British ministers cannot expect a Sinn Fein leadership to do it for them."
He said that the suspension of the Assembly powers was "illegal and unilateral". And while the deliberate focus on the obstruction of decommissioning proceeded, precious little else has been forthcoming in terms of the agreement.
"The reality is that we are still awaiting delivery of the equality agenda; a new policing service; justice matters; human rights; cultural rights; and demilitarisation." He said he had sought answers for the British forces killings of 400 victims. He has yet to receive an adequate response, he said.
There is no doubt that Sinn Fein's development and grassroots expansion, its prospective and committed work in what -- though shortlived -- Gerry Adams called "popular" Assembly institutions, its unrelenting dedication to the righting of anti-working class conditions, and its progressive internationalist positions, all add up to a national power in the land of Ireland.
This has been reinforced by the current debate going on in Sinn Fein now as a result of talk that Fianna Fail are floating the idea of a coalition with Sinn Fein.
The discussion is a "novel experience", Gerry Adams said, but he added that it is more a question of whether Sinn Fein want to go in to a coalition with Fianna Fail. "Ultimately, the only coalition we want to build is the coalition of the dispossessed, north and south, east and west, urban and rural.
This is an indication of Sinn Fein's growing stature. That's the point. Gerry Adams said: "Sinn Fein is ready for government. Maybe that is the real problem."
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by Daphne Liddle
A BLACK teenager last week was set on fire by a gang of racists near his home in the Oxfordshire village of Berinsfield.
This was just one of several vicious racist attacks that have been reported so far this month.
Chris Barton told police that four white men attacked him as he walked home from his girlfriend's flat at lam on Friday morning.
"I was five minutes from the house and a black car started driving slowly behind me: My first thought was that it was the police -- I have been stopped late at night before," he said.
"It was just going at normal walking speed when it pulled up beside me. I was going to run but then I had some stuff sprayed over me. It smelled like petrol.
"Two boys got out of the car and stood right in front of me. Then two even taller lads got out and stood behind me. There was a car on one side and a fence on the other. I couldn't go anywhere.
"The two lads in front of me pulled out lighters and said: 'You smelly Paki'. I stood there just frozen with fear and thought to myself, they haven't got the bottle to do it.
"The next thing I knew the lighters were lit -- Ijust kept my eyes on the lighters and then they lit me up and just walked off, laughing.
They were dead casual, they didn't even speed off when they got in the car -- it was like nothing had happened."
Flames soon engulfed his face, setting his hair ablaze. He pulled off his jumper and tried to use it to beat out the flames.
"It was terrible," he said. "I can't explain how painful it was. I pulled my jumper off and just wrapped it around my head and tried to stagger home.
"It felt like an hour but it was only five minutes. I was just in shock. I was staggering all over the road."
Detective Sergeant Geoff Webb of the Thames Valley Police said: "This was a terrifying incident inflicted on someone who was just walking home. There can be no doubt this was a racially motivated attack. There can be no other explanation given the wording used.
"People of all nationalities, colours and creeds live in Berinsfield village and we have not had any problems."
In another incident, a gospel church in Nelson, Lancashire was petrol bombed as worshippers inside held a bible study class.
None of the 15 members of the congregation was injured.
Detective Sergeant Steve Chard said: "It was a fairly minor attack and there was a small amount of fire damage to the door. But it appears that it might be racially motivated."
Police are linking the attack with racist leaflets stuck to the windscreens of cars parked outside the church.
Minister David Bullock reports that the church has been subjected to several attacks over the past 18 months, including vandalism to cars, graffiti and arson attempts.
And the Turkish community in Britain has come in for a number of racist attacks after two Leeds football fans were murdered in Istanbul recently.
One young man has been shot on his doorstep and on Sunday three racists beat a Turkish restaurant owner and then set light to his restaurant in Sheffield, south Yorkshire.
Leaders of Britain's Chinese community last week reported a rising tide of racially motivated attacks and harassment that go unpunished by police.
A delegation organised by the National Civil Rights Movement last week met representatives of the Metropolitan Police race and violent crime task force to voice the fears of London's 60,000 strong Chinese community.
They says that race crimes I against them are increasing and handed over details of 15 cases of abuse against restauranteurs.
Nelson Mandela last week, during a brief visit to Britain, pledged support to the McGowan family of Telford who have had to fight local police racism to get the racist murder of two members of the family taken seriously.
Errol McGowan was found hanged last July after being subjected to a campaign of racist abuse and death threats. This began after he had turned a gang of white thugs away from a pub where he was a bouncer.
Local police ascribed his death to suicide in spite of family protests. When his nephew Jason began to investigate the murder himself because of lack of police help, he too was found hanged.
Police still ascribed both deaths to suicide until a national newspaper took up the case.
Now the local police have been pressured to allow the Metropolitan race and violent crimes task force to investigate the case properly.
* Last Tuesday two weapons, a large knife and an iron bar were handed into police investigating the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence seven years ago in Eltham.
The weapons were found buried in the garden of the former home of two of the main suspects in the case, Neil and Jamie Acourt. Police now say it is possible that Stephen was stabbed with more than one weapon.
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