The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 15th May, 1998

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Editorial - Nuclear reaction.
Lead Story - Fight on for union rights.
Feature - Rail companies face fines, while passengers face worse services.
International - Asian anger at Indian nuke tests.
British News - Dounreay closed after safety scare.

Editorial

Nuclear reaction.

THE newly-elected government of India has outraged its neighbours and world opinion last week by conducting underground nuclear bomb tests in a desert area of Rajasthan.

 This provocative act speaks volumes about the reactionary nature of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -the ruling element in India's coalition government.

 The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party that supports, and is supported by, big business interests, landlords and imperialism. It also has a history of fanning the flames of religious sectarianism and communal strife.

 The nuclear tests are a dramatic demonstration of the BJP's strutting brand of macho-nationalism - calculated to provoke and offend Pakistan, increase tension in Sri Lanka, and cause anxiety in Nepal and Bhutan. It is a stance which threatens the peace and stability of the whole region.

 BJP rule will also mean a worsening of conditions within India itself. Its willingness to cosy-up to the International Monetary Fund and open India's door even further to imperialist penetration can only lead to increasing levels of poverty and exploitation for millions of Indian workers and peasants.

 There are international calls for India to be subjected to economic sanctions because of the nuclear tests. It would therefore suit the Indian government quite well if neighbouring Pakistan could be taunted into canying out a nuclear bomb test of its own.

 But it must be hoped that Pakistan resists the provecation and leaves the BJP-led Indian government without a moral fig-leaf to cover its nuclear shame.

 It must also be said that among the most vociferous critics of India's nuclear policy are the leaders of countries with huge nuclear arsenals of their own. President Clinton, one of India's loudest critics, has only to extend his finger to send millions of people into oblivion.

 These leaders are not raising their voices against India because they deplore nuclear weapons or because they really care about the security and integrity of the countries of southern Asia - they are asserting what they see as their right to keep nuclear weapons for themselves alone.

 This attitude is an obstacle to nuclear disarmament and to advance in implementing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

 Britain's record is disgraceful. It, like the United States, wants the NPT to apply to all non-nuclear states but doesn't want to carry out its own responsibilities under the treaty. This includes working to achieve reduction of its own nuclear arsenals and to actively pursue nuclear disarmament.

 As the world asks India what purpose is served by developing nuclear weapons in the sub-continent so we should ask our own government what purpose is served by the Trident nuclear system.

 In both cases the answer is that the weapons serve the interests of the most reactionary elements in society -the capitalist class. Working peoplejust get to shoulder the burden of the enormous costs involved.

 In the Cold War the leading imperialist powers developed and built up their nuclear arsenals to threaten the socialist countries. The Soviet Union and Peoples' China had genuine defence reasons to develop nuclear weapons of their own.

 Today, the Soviet Union no longer exists and the nuclear weapons in the hands of some former soviet republics are becoming more and more obsolete by the day. China, whose nuclear arsenal is the smallest, upholds the demand for universal nuclear disarmament. It calls for full implementation of the NPT by all the signatories.

 The reality is that it is the major imperialist nuclear powers of the US, Britain and France which stand in the way of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

 The developments in India are serious and sad -especially as India so often spoke out for peace with great courage and played a leading role in the non-aligned movement.

 But we in the west have even more to regret - our governments led the arms race and continue to stand in the way of progress. It is for us to speak out today and remove the mote from our own government's eye.

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Lead Story

Fight on for union rights.

 by Daphne Liddle

 THE LONG negotiations over the government's proposed Fairness at Work White Paper seem to be coming to an end with a government decision that in any workplace, more than 40 per cent of the entire workforce will have to vote in favour of recognition before it becomes legally binding on the employer.

 This means that the government has come down on the bosses' side. It is offering, as a sop to the unions, a prospect that the new law will be reviewed in its working, possibly after 12 months in place.

 It is not much of a straw to grasp at but one which some union leaders will be glad to seize because they want the matter settled as quickly as possible.

 The negotiations between the government the unions and the Confederation of British Industry have already lasted many months, with the bosses' organisation demanding a 50 per cent in favour threshold.

 The unions started by demanding a simple majority in any ballot -- the way any normal election is run.

 If last week's local elections had been run on the same basis that the CBI is demanding, no candidate would have been elected anywhere as the average turn-out was 34 per cent.

 And if the last government had had its way on the privatisation of council estates, abstainers, the sick, the dead and anyone else not voting would have been assumed to be in favour of the change.

 So it seems the bourgeois concept of what is fair and reasonable in elections is exceedingly flexible, but never in favour of the workers.

 The truth is that current anti-union laws in Britain, passed by the former Tory govenunent, are an affront to all internationally agreed concepts of human rights.

 More than 200 years after workers in Britain began fighting for the right to combine together in unions to fight for pay, conditions and rights, workers in this country are still being denied the right to be represented by their appropriate union.

 Workers are being sacked for taking legitimate strike action and union members are being penalised in their pay packets for refusing to leave their unions.

 Companies have derecognised unions, torn up agreements, forced workers to accept individual contracts that sign away their statutory rights to holidays and sick pay.

 Zero hours contracts have been iintroduced that give workers no guarantee of any definite hours of work or pay but leave them dangling on the end of a telephone line, waiting for a call to tell them they are wanted at any time of the day or night, any day of the week - according to the bosses' needs.

 And all through this the unions' hands have been tied by the anti-union legislation. There are so many legal hoops togo through that achieving a legal strike is nigh on impossible.

 Solidarity action is outlawed and so is mass picketing.

 Workers in factories like Walkers' Crisps in the north-east and Noon's in Southall are being denied their fundamental human rights by bosses who do not give a damn for anything but profits.

 And, as we go to press, we have learned thatone of the workers leading the fight for union recognition at Noon's is believed to have been arrested. We do not yet know the details of this matter but protesters gathered outside Southall Police station last Wednesday afternoon to express their concern.

 In the struggle for trade union recognition the TUC and union leaderships have notdone all they could by a long chalk to strengthen their own position in the negotiations.

 Throughout these talks they have taken a placatory line to the bosses.

 There is another nasty sting in the tail of the White Paper. The CRI is demanding that a ballot in any workplace will noteven take place unless there is proof that 10 per cent of the workforce have called for it.

 This will place yet another bureaucratic barrier in the way to even having a ballot - and Tony Blair seems set to let the bosses have their way on this. So even getting a ballot will be yet another legal minefield as tricky as getting a legal strike.

 Whatever the White Paper says, it is now too late for this Parliamentary session and itcannot be introduced as a Bill before next November.

 This gives the TUC and union leaderships time to build a much stronger, widespread campaign for union rights.

 Fire Brigades leader Ken Cameron has complained that the unions, while footing the Labour Party's bills, are being treated unfairly by the Labour government.

 This will continue until the unions flex their real muscles -their members. And if the leaderships won't lead on this, it is time for union activists to pressure them, by organising their own marches, petitions and so on in demand of trade union rights.

 And seeing the unions at all levels really getting into the battle for the rights of their members will do more to inspire and recruit new young members than anything else could.

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Feature

Rail companies face fines, while passengers face worse services.
 
by Caroline Colebrook
 
COMPANIES operating commuter rail services in and out of London were fined over £4 million for lateness and overcrowding according to official figures released last week.

 And the pattern is repeated throughout the country. The worst record on punctuality is held by the Virgin-owned West Coast services in Scotland.

 The fines were imposed by the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising and represent penalties for increasing misery for rail passengers.

 They are also evidence that the services are continuing to deteriorate -- most of the companies performed significantly worse last year than in previous years and the signs are that things are going to get worse.

 Great Western, which runs trains from Paddington faces fines of between £200,000 and £400,000 because 20 per cent of its 150 daily trains are estimated to be late.

 This company was taken over two weeks ago by First Group and this resulted in seven directors becoming millionaires.

 Connex South Eastern. which runs trains in south-east London and Kent was fined a total of £1.3 million by the end of last year for bad punctuality and providing too few coaches on trains, leading to overcrowding.

 South West Trains has been fined nearly £1 million, Thameslink £92,000 and Thames Trains £718,000 for the same two faults -- lateness and not enough carriages.

 The rail franchising director, John O'Brien, called for "a dramatic improvement in the unsatisfactory performance" of the companies.

 "Passengers have a right to expect performance to improve year on year," he said. Punctuality deteriorated last year on 35 of the 66 "route groups".

 Many of the rail companies involved said the growing lateness is the fault of Railtrack, which has introduced many speed restrictions while repairs are being carried out.

 Speaking on behalf of the campaigning group Save Our Railways, Keith Bill said: "We are reaching a crisis in many parts of the country.

 "If Tony Blair or John Prescott do not step in with some radical measures which will turn this right round, it won't be long before passengers vent their fury on New Labour and not the last administration."

 Railtrack has come in for yet more criticism for its safety record. A survey published last week revealed that two thirds of rail managers do not trust Railtrack on safety and want an independent body to take over responsibility.

 Many say that Railtrack should not investigate accidents because it has a vested interest in the outcome.

 The survey was initiated by the Transport Salaried Staffs Association. Richard Rosser, the union's general secretary, said: "I am staggered by the overwhelming support for an independent safety body."

 This follows just a week after another report from rail safety managers, warning of the increasing risk of a "catastrophic" accident through poor repairwork on tracks and signals.

 This arises from the Railtrack practice of subcontracting out the work to inexperienced companies.

 The demand of the managers for an independent monitoring body falls in line with the Labour government's plans for a Strategic Rail Authority.

 But the idea that such a body is necessary now is an admission of the damage done by the fragmentation and privatisation of British Rail.

 The government should listen to the voice of the unions involved and renationalise the whole rail network.

 The private companies now running it are in breach of the terms of their franchises. Passengers and rail workers alike are not only suffering increased inconvenience but increased risk of serious accident.
 
 Having broken their contracts, the private companies have no legal leg to stand on if their franchises are withdrawn without compensation.

 Labour cannot complain that rail renationalisation is too expensive. It will not cost anything.

 Failing to renationalise and reintegrate British rail will continue to cost us all dearly: passengers, rail workers and tax payers who are now subsidising these companies.

 If safety standards continue to deteriorate it could cost lives.

 And of course there is a cost to the environment when passengers are so discouraged they prefer to use their cars for regular journeys.
 

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International

Asian anger at Indian nuke tests.

 ANGER is mounting throughout Asia and beyond at India's resumption of nuclear tests last Monday. Pakistan has warned that it will lead to a new arms race and Australia and New Zealand have recalled their ambassadors in protest. The UN's Big Five, Britain, America, France, Russia and People's China have all expressed their concern at India's action -Japan and the United States even threatening to impose economic sanctions in retaliation.

 In New Delhi the reactionary, fascistic government of Atal Behari Vajpayee was jubilant at the success of their tests and dismissive of the furore they had provoked. Making India a nuclear power was a major demand in the election programme of Vajpayee's Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) during the general election last March. The BJP, a reactionary Hindu nationalist front, made no secret of its desire to re-activate India's nuclear weapons programme -- which was put on hold after their first atomic test back in 1974.

closed ranks

 Vajpayee claims the tests were needed to counter old-enemy Pakistan's new missiles. And in Pakistan government and opposition closed ranks around new calls for a Pakistani bomb as soon as the news broke.

 Pakistani Foreign Minister Cohar Ayub Khan warned of a new nuclear arms race and vowed to make his country's defences impregnable against any Indian threat, be it nuclear or conventional".

 Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, speaking in London, predicted that Pakistan would test its own bomb "within a month" and denounced India as a threat to the region and the world.

 "I feel full of fear for the subcontinent. What mad step will the government of India take next'" she said.

 Three underground nuclear explosions were carried out at the Pokran testing range In Rajasthan near the Pakistani frontier consisting of a fission device, a low-yield device and a thermo-nuclear device.

 Though India has signed the partial test ban treaty, which outlaws overground tests, New Delhi, like Pakistan, has never agreed to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty or the comprehensive test ban treaty which would have prevented India from carrying out the tests.

 Premier Vajpayee, basking in the praise drummed up by the nationalist press in India, no doubt thinks he's blasted himself into the big league with his bombs. But his rash action may leave him a hostage to fortune in the future.

 The Pakistani government, beset by economic woes and corruption scandals, may respond in kind and let him off the hook. If they don't the Indian government will find itself increasingly isolated and sanctioned by the big powers to force it to drop its plans for a nuclear strike force.

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British News

Dounreay closed after safety scare.
by Daphne Liddle
 
 
THE ACCIDENT-prone nuclear processing plant at Dounreay in Scotland was ordered to shut down last Tuesday by the Nudesr Installations Inspectorate -- a nuclear safety watchdog -- after a power failure.

The failure occurred when an excavator accidentally severed power lines, interrupting supplies to the fuel cycle area.

 The emergency back-up power system failed to operate and a vital ventilation system stopped working and other safety systems were affected.

 Around 300 "non essential" workers at the plant had to be evacuated. And the Dounreay management admitted that one worker at the plant "may have been contaminated" in the nuclear reprocessing area.

 If the plant had been engaged in reprocessing at the moment of the power failure, environmentalists claim the plant could have gone "critical".

 The plant is currently engaged in reprocessing five kilograms of highly-enriched uranium from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

 This was brought to Britain in the face of great controversy after many other countries had refused to touch the dangerous package. Prime Minister Blair agreed the stuff should come to Dounreay after a request from US President Clinton.

 The reprocessing of this material is a type of operation that was banned at Dounreay by the NII last year.

 Eight hundred milligrams were to be reprocessed into new nuclear fuel, producing a small amount of plutonium as a by product.

 The rest was to be processed into medical isotopes for the treatment of cancer and was due to start later this month.

 Now everything will have to wait until the plant receives a complete clean bill of health after the latest accident.

 "We are requiring them to keep the processing shut until they have satisfied us and we have satisfied ourselves that they are on top of whatever the problem was last week," said an NII spokesperson.

 "We will want to be sure there have been no breaches of statutory requirements and that any lessons to ensure this doesn't happen again have been learnt."

 The ageing plant is proving ever more expensive to run. Taxpayers are now footing the bill for a clean-up of two waste silos at Dounreay in which a lethal cocktail of uranium, plutoniutn, sodium metal and other dangerous substances have been ditched over several decades with no proper records of what is in there.

 One of these silos is on a cliff head that is crumbling into the sea. The other suffered an explosion a few years ago that blew off a massive concrete scaling plug.

 No-one knows what chemicals combined in that pit to cause the explosion.

Last January the plant was fined £2,000 after subcontract workers were exposed to inhaling radioactive dust in a clean-up operation.

 One way and another the plant is becoming not only highly dangerous but also uneconomic to run - and that could be the factor which finally seals its fate.

 Richard Dixon, speaking for the Scottish branch of Friends of the Earth, said the string of incidents showed the plant is badly run.

 "I would expect there to be resignations at a high level," he said. "The best thing would be for Dounreay to be forced to give up reprocessing and become a centre of excellence for dealing with nuclear contamination."

 The Scotland Against Nuclear Dumping campaign group also welcomed the NII ruling. "We are very heartened to see there is a watchdog that has some teeth," said SCAN convener Lorraine Mann.
 

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