The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 15th January, 1999

 

Workers of all countries, unite!


Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition

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Editorial - Robbery by stealth.
Lead Story - Jobs not Workfare.
Feature - Privatisation threat hangs over education.
International - French call for Iraq sanctions ease.
British News - Lawrence family outraged as police cleared of racism.

Editorial

Robbery by stealth

THERE is no sign of a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. The country is not distraught or in a state of shock. The departure of Mandelson and Robinson from their former government jobs, though it may well have dismayed Tony Blair, has hardly troubled anyone else at all. Indeed it is likely that more than a few Labour Party and labour movement activists will be quietly celebrating the good news.

 Jostling and petty intrigues within the government's ruling elite underlies the finger-pointing and leaks that led to the two resignations. But because the whole matter has drawn attention to the grand lifestyles of ministers who spend their time supporting wage freezes for low paid public sector workers and others. The stark contrasts between rich and poor and between top salaries and the earnings of most workers have once again fallen under the spotlight.

 What the capitalist press will be less ready to talk about is the vast wealth that exists within the capitalists class itself -- wealth that puts government minsters' salaries in the shade and shows them to be what they are -- well-paid mouthpieces of the capitalist state they serve.

 The right-wing leaders of the Labour Party made it quite clear in their pre-election manifesto that while they do support some modest reforms in such areas as education and health, the only improvements they are prepared to make are those that can be squeezed from the existing Tory-devised framework of income tax and public spending. And on foreign policy there will be no major changes at all.

 Labour's landslide victory was not, as Blair claims, a chorus of approval for his right-wing views and the package of old-fashioned backward-stepping politics that is ludicrously represented by the word "New" stuck in front of the word "Labour".

 Rather, it was a widespread desire to get rid of the Tories, to welcome such reforms as there were and to press for better to come.

 But it also must be said that voters have been persuaded over the years to reject any suggestion of rises in income tax on the false grounds that it would automatically mean having the government's hand in everyones' pockets taking away our hard-earned wages. This dishonest argument has enabled successive governments to serve the interests of the stinking rich at our expense.

 What has happened instead is a process of robbery by stealth. The wealthy have been enriched by Tory tax changes under Thatcher and been allowed to keep this advantage ever since.

 To make up the shortfall, the working class have been taxed over and over again through VAT which is paid over the counter for most goods and services and regardless of income. This is part of the price for membership of the European Union -- but it is a price the wealthy want in any case.

 Now the ruling class has found another way to make the working class pay for the tax breaks of the rich -- the introduction bf the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

 Under these schemes capital investment in public services such as the NHS schools, colleges, public buildings and facilities and local services are provided by the private sector.

 The privvate sector, the companies whose owners are already benefiting from the unfair taxation system, lease back the schools, hospitals or whatever to the users in order to extract then profit. But the arrangement is not like a mortgage -- we, the public never get to own what we lease ever again -- our public assets have gone for good.

 For profits to be made, someone has to pay -- and that is us. Backdoor privatisation is like any other sell-off -- it is made profitable by tightening the screws on the workforce, cutting and trimming budgets even further so that services to the public are poorer and by demanding more government funding in the form of subsidies and grants. This way what public money flows in goes in large measure to the rich private backers.

 What is needed is a complete change in taxation policy to exempt the lowest paid altogether and progressively increase the levels of tax so that the burden is lifted from the shoulders of the working class, including better paid workers. The wealthy, who have aquired their vaste fortunes by exploition should be made to pay. This means breaking through the present top tax rate level and rolling back the tax gains for the rich brought in since 1979. VAT and PFI should both be scrapped.
 

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Lead Story

Jobs not Workfare

by Daphne Liddle
 
  THE GOVERNMENT last week launched an £80 million series of 12 pilot workfare schemes giving "single gateway" access to social security benefits.

 This is being described as a "re-focussing" initiative and involves the collaboration of the Department of Education and Employment with the Department of Social Security.

 The schemes will give each claimant a personal adviser to assess their entitlement to all benefits -- contributory and non-contributory -- ranging from Jobseekers' Allowance, income support, disability and housing benefit.

 Claimants will be obliged to be much more "pro-active" in finding jobs.

 All claimants, even those not seeking work, such as some single parents and the severely disabled, will have to face interviews to assess their suitability for work.

 Only lone parents and the disabled will be allowed to turn down suitable jobs if offered -- and there is an implication that they will also be under pressure.

 Four of the 12 projects will be run by the private sector but all will offer the "single gateway to benefits" system.

 One trade union activist within the Department of Education and Employment told the New Worker: "Four of these schemes are to be run by the private sector. Those New Deal schemes that are run by the private sector are the worst performing in London. There is no need for private sector involvement.

 "But our main worry is that this whole scheme is another way of cutting back on services and staffing. It's all tied in with the comprehensive spending review and basically it is yet another cost-cutting exercise."

 And of course the scheme includes the nasty compulsory element. Claimants who refuse a job -- no matter how poorly paid or how bad the conditions -- will have their benefits cut.

 In this way the government comes to the aid of Britain's worst bosses and undermines wage levels and working conditions everywhere by forcing the unemployed to become scabs or starve.

 This aspect of the government's "workfare schemes" will become all the more serious with the oncoming recession.

 Last Wednesday's unemployment figures were surprisingly good considering all the massive job losses announced in the last few months of last year.

 New technology companies were particularly hit by the crisis in the Far East that flooded markets with cheap goods from bankrupt factories.

 Heavy industry and banking also suffered. Only last week chemicals giant ICI announced 500 job cuts.

 But at the same time the government's statistics were saved by the creation of 8,500 new jobs by rival fast food chains Burger King and McDonalds. High street traders Dixons are also taking on new workers.

 Of course the jobs that are being created are not at all the same as those being lost. The new jobs are low-paid, long hours and awful conditions. But the unemployed are going to be forced into them and the unemployment figures will be massaged.

 The Tories repeatedly fiddled those figures by changing the way they are calculated and Labour has not reversed this -- in spite of having pledged to do so.

 Vast numbers of people who would like a job are not counted: those under 18, married women and many over 50 are regarded as "economically inactive" -- meaning they haven't gota hope in hell of getting a decent job under this system and have given up.

 The government is still trying to pretend there is no developing crisis of capitalism and that recessions are caused by "lack of confidence" rather than inherent in the system.

 But as we go to press the world stock markets are reeling yet again. This time from a crisis in Brazil.
 

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Feature

Privatisation threat hangs over education
 
by Caroline Colebrook
 
 TEACHING unions reacted angrily last week to news that the government has started advertising for private companies to take over local authority functions and run private schools.

 The Department of Education is now drawing up a list of "approved" contractors who may be brought in if the local education authorities (LEAs) are deemed to be failing.

 These companies will become responsible for maintaining teaching standards, admissions, the advisory teacher service and targets.

 The advertisements, placed in national dailies last Friday, say: "The government will act when it is clear that a particular LEA cannot or will not perform adequately.

 "It then needs to be in a position to act swiftly and effectively. This advertisement invites contractors to express an interest in playing their part, and as and when necessary, in improving local education services."

 Education Secretary David Blunkett said, in a statement that has stunned even some Tories, that there is nothing wrong with companies making a profit from providing services to schools.

 He said: "It is extraordinary that people feel that in education they should not be subject to what happens in other aspects of local authority services, such as architecture and design where in some cases people take a very substantial consultancy fee."

 He was speaking to councillors, head teachers, education officials and union leaders at the North of England education conference in Sunderland.

 Some of these contacts could be very lucrative, running into millions of pounds. Mr Blunkett said that in some cases, a private company might take over the entire function of an LEA and run it for profit.

 "A judgement would have to be made on whether an education authority as a whole is failing or whether a particular part of it was letting the children down.

 "Some authorities may do very well on some aspects of their work but may not be delivering on other aspects such as literacy."

 This must be a recipe for chaos and confusion in schools, with an LEA administering some parts of their work and one or more private firms -- all with their own agenda -- administering others.

 Currently the controversial government inspection service, Ofsted, has ruled that none of the 182 LEAs is failing.

 But Hackney was ruled as failing in 1997 and a task force sent in. It is due for inspection again soon. If it is not judged to have made the required progress, it could be vulnerable for privatisation.

 Teaching union leaders accuse Mr Blunkett of allowing himself to be "bounced" into accepting the privatisation of education by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

 The general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Peter Smith, accused Labour of doing what the Tories would not have dared to.

 And he pledged: "Teachers up and down the land will campaign against this policy."

 He added: "Serious under-performance demands serious action, but it is nor acceptable for private firms to profit from a child's state education."

 Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers, said: "It would be absurd for local authorities to retain statutory responsibilities while their functions are being carried out by private firms."

 Graham Lane, Labour education chairperson of the Local Government Association said the government should not be drawing up a list of contractors for "failing" authorities when there is no evidence of failure.

 He said that local government could solve its problems and call in its own consultants.

 Then on Thursday he attacked the "shadowy creatures" around Blair who are blaming local authorities for failing to raise standards.

 Labour are adopting this policy as yet another way of cutting public expenditure -- throwing responsibilities for public services onto the private sector and allowing them to profit from it.

 It is a simple continuation of the Tory policy and both were designed to bring this country's level of public expenditure into line with Europe and the needs of the single currency.

 Tony Blair is selling off our children's future, their needs am to become a lucrative commodity. And the private sector will inevitably tailor its services towards where the greater profits are rather than where the greatest needs are.

 And even the worst LEAs are accountable to the electorate. It will not be possible for voters to reject badly performing private companies. Only David Blunkett or his successors will be able to do that.

 * Teachers are forking out from their own pockets to buy books, worksheets and other materials to help children learn to read under the government's national literacy strategy.

 The ATL last week said that the lack of government funding means that more than half of primary school teachers have found it necessary to use their own money to by the materials needed to provide the extra teaching necessary.

The report says that more than 20 per cent of teachers has spent £50 or more on materials for pupils.
 

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International

French call for Iraq sanctions ease

by Our Middle East Affairs correspondent
 
 THE FRENCH government is calling for a new policy towards Iraq at the United Nations as US warplanes clash with Iraqi air-defences for the fifth time since the pre-Christmas onslaught against Baghdad.

 And in Russia the Kremlin is leading calls for the sacking of chief weapons inspector Richard Butler -- strengthened by the revelations that he had co-operated with US spying operations against Iraq while supposedly conducting his Unscom weapons inspections.

 France, one of the Big Five veto-powers on the UN Security Council, tabled proposals to ease the blockade against Iraq and change the arms inspectors regime to meet some of Iraq's objections at a secret meeting with the ambassadors of the other four veto powers -- People's China, Russia, America and Britain.

 The French plan is likely to be backed by Beijing and Moscow. British and American imperialism remains hostile and committed to trying to get the inspectors -- recently exposed by the UN Secretary-General himself as acting as agents of US intelligence -- back into Iraq.

 Iraq has said the inspectors will never be allowed back nor has Baghdad shown much enthusiasm for the French plan so far. While full details have yet to be revealed, the proposals, according to the Paris media, call for an end to restrictions on Iraqi oil exports at the moment restricted to a small quota under the oil-for-food deal and the abolition of the current UN arms inspection regime.

 But monitoring of Iraq's military potential would continue by other means -- mainly by external supervision of future Iraqi expenditure to block possible purchases of weapons of mass destruction and the means to manufacture them.

 On the Security Council the entry of Malaysia and Namibia, who start their two-year term on the world forum this month, will strengthen the existing bloc revolving around China, Russia and France which wants to see an end to the blockade.

 Britain and the United States are fighting a diplomatic rear-guard to try and maintain support for the criminal blockade against Iraq at least amongst their own Nato allies. And there it's not just France that is looking the other way. There is considerable concern in Washington at which way Canada and Holland will bounce -- who were also called up to the Security Council this month.

 Last Monday the Dutch representative on Unscom, Koos Ooms, advanced the view that sanctions could be eased while keeping the inspections in place. This he claimed would restore unity on the Security Council and "would at least snatch away from Saddam Hussein the weapon of being able to say that the Iraqi people are suffering because of the sanctions".

 Britain, as usual, is behind Washington's latest ploy -- to extend the "oil-for-food" deal while trying to get the hated Unscom gang back into Iraq. It's a policy which is going nowhere -- Like the Unscom inspectors.
 

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British News

Lawrence family outraged as police cleared of racism
 THE FAMILY of race murder victim Stephen Lawrence reacted angrily last Wednesday to news that, in spite of all the evidence brought out at the inquiry into the police handling of their son's death last year, the Police Complaints Authority has cleared all the officers involved of racism.

 And only one police officer, Detective Inspector Bullock, is to face charges of neglect of duty arising from the case. All the others involved have since escaped any kind of discipline by retiring early.

 The Metropolitan Police Federation is fiercely defending Mr Bullock, who was second in charge ofthe botched investigation which has allowed the white racist murderers to go free.

 The PCA found that "the authority is not convinced that officers did everything that could reasonably be expected of them in terms of first aid.

 "Despite the fact that Stephen was losing blood, nobody took responsibility for monitoring Stephen's condition properly assessing where blood was flowing from and whether the flow could be stemmed."

 But it then went on to say that "disciplinary action is not the answer" and merely called for more first aid training.

 In reaching its conclusions, the PCA has only damned itself. It has shown that in spite of the mountain of evidence that the police involved were guilty not merely of neglect of duty but of actually obstructing the investigation, they have learned nothing at all from the inquiry.

 That inquiry revealed that police interfered with the main witness, failed to take statements from many witnesses who came forward and failed even to question the suspects until they had plenty of time to dispose of all forensic evidence.

 Sir William McPherson, who chaired the inquiry, is due to deliver his report next month.

 In the meantime, a play has opened in north London based on edited extracts from the inquiry. All the words are those actually spoken by witnesses and lawyers.

 Stephen's father Neville recommended the play as a way of allowing all the people who could not attend the inquiry to gain of full insight into the revelations made there.

 One of the claims made at the inquiry was that police failed to make a thorough search of the home of one of the suspects because it was "too posh" to disturb the expensive carpets and floor tiling.

 Now that magnificent house, in prosperous Bromley, just a few miles from the murder scene in Eltham, south-east London, is under threat.

 The suspect's father is currently serving a sentence for serious drug offences and the Home Office may seize the house as a way of recovering assets gained through criminal activity.

 * Anti-fascist campaigners have called for a new inquiry into the death of Blair Peach, who died over 20 years ago at a protest demonstration against the National Front in Southall, west London.

 Mr Peach is believed to have died from a police truncheon blow but investigations at the time failed to find which officer had struck the blow.
 

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