The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 15th June 2001

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Editorial - Landslide.
Lead Story -Give us back our guards.
Feature - Unions ready to fight privatisation.
International - Sinn Fein powers home at the polls.
British News - Disabled blockade Birmingham.

Editorial

Landslide

LABOUR'S victory in last week's general election was remarkable and historic as it was the second Labour landslide in five years. The Tories won back just a tiny handful of the seats they lost in 1997 and are currently licking their wounds and looking for a new leader.

 Quite a lot has been written and said about William Hague and his apparent inability to woo the voters. But the personality of the leader was not really the issue. It is elevated in order to avoid talking about the popular rejection of the Tories' platform. During the campaign the Tories went from issue to issue and nothing seemed to strike a chord with the voters.

 The majority of people were not taken with the idea of building lots of detention centres for asylum seekers. They did not want massive tax cuts that would benefit the rich at the expense of public services and they were certainly not impressed by seeing Thatcher back on the streets reminding everyone why they wanted rid of the Tories in the first place.

 Certainly no one, including the Tories, were surprised they lost. But the Tories were hoping to close the gap with Labour and the failure to do this has caused dismay in sections of the ruling classes of Britain and the United States. They clearly are the favoured party of the rich and powerful and we can now expect to see the wealthy stepping up their donations to Tory funds. In fact it's already started with a massive £5 million donation from American billionaire J Paul Getty II.

 The Liberal Democrats gained a little ground based on one aspect of their othenvise pro-business campaign -- the call for a small increase in taxation in order to improve health, education and other services. But once again their results showed that people look for a party capable of gaining a big enough majority to form a majority government.

 In Scotland and Wales the nationalist parties came out largely unchanged from their 1997 showing. In both countries the Tories got their usual bashing and Labour continued to hold their traditional vote.

 As expected, the small socialist parties were left far behind. The gap between these parties and the winning candidates was huge -- none of them won a single seat, nor even came close.

 The only candidate to break the mould was an independent in Wyre Forest near Kidderminster who fought (with Lib-Dem backing) for better resources for a local hospital and defeated the sitting Labour MP.

 The worst result of all was the neo-nazi British National Party (BNP) getting some 5000 and 6000 plus votes in the two Oldham constituencies. It followed a concentrated assault on this town by the fascists including outrageous verbal and physical attacks on the town's Asian minority.

 While the BNP is unlikely to maintain this vote, the racists and fascists must be defeated by the vigorous efforts of the working class led by the labour and antifascist movements. And the Labour government has to be pressured to tackle the problems that fuelled the BNP vote -- problems of housing, unemployment and economic hardship -- problems to be found in all the areas that have suffered for years from the decline in manufacturing industry.

 We, the New Communist Party, called for people to vote Labour. But that is certainly not a call for going "on message". On the contrary we believe it is the working class that should be giving "messages" to Blair and the incoming government.

 The election campaigns have already made one thing abundantly clear -- the NHS, education and public services have got to be adequately and fully funded and drastically improved. That message has got to be repeated again and again after the election dust has settled.

 Another loud message coming from the public sector trade unions, and one that has widespread popular support, is to stop the privatising of hospitals, schools and services by both sell-offs of assets and by the backdoor robbery of Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes.

 And there will be no let-up in the campaign for restoring the link between state pensions and earnings.

 The Blair government has now to be put under increasing pressure to meet working class demands and to remember that while Getty is forking out for the Tories it is the trade unions and organised workers who are paying Labour's piper.

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Lead Story

Give us back our guards

by Daphne Liddle

THE LEADERS of the transport union RMT are currently engaged in talks with the Association of Train Operating Companies about the role of guards on trains after the union announced two one-day strikes in protest at the undermining of guards.

 The strikes would affect nearly all parts of Britain as companies affected include Conner, Virgin, Scotrail, Southwest Trains, the Southend Line, Chiltern, Thames, Silverlink and others.

 The issue concerns jobs and safety for passengers and rail workers alike and the dispute has been running for two years.

 The train operators have been downgrading the role of guards, transferring responsibility for the safety of trains from them to the drivers.

The union warns this leaves guards with the status of "kit-kat sellers" and cost-cutting companies are tempted to cut their jobs completely. This is all the more tempting as in the vast majority of journeys there is no real safety role for the guard to play.

 Yet when there is an incident their role is vital. The RMT pointed out that in both the Ladbroke Grove and Southall rail crashes, train drives were killed. Without guards, there would have been no one trained and qualified to take charge and direct passengers.

 Guards also have a vital role in operating automatic doors and letting the driver know when all passengers are aboard and it is safe to proceed.

 When all this responsibility is left to drivers, accidents can occur.

 The RMT last week published a survey which showed that 91 per cent of passengers questioned believed it "is important to have a fully-trained guard on all trains".

 RMT assistant general secretary said the plan to strike on Monday 25 June and Wednesday 4 July "is about saving lives".

 The train operators first set about planning to lower the status of train guards in 1997 and implemented it in 1999.

 At the time the RMT balloted for strike action and won a majority in favour.

 But court injunctions -- based on Thatcher's anti-union laws prevented this at the time.

 Now technological advances are further undermining the role of guards and a ballot for strike action last month was supported by a majority of guards.

 The talks between the RMT and train operators began last Wednesday. By the evening both sides said they had been constructive and would continue the next day.

 Meanwhile Railtrack continues to stagger from one crisis to another. Rail regulator Tom Winsor last week told the company to "knuckle down" and "put away the begging bowl" after it came pleading for yet more tax-payers money.

 Mr Winsor told the company it "should not bother" applying to him for more money until it had sorted itself out.

 Railtrack was asking for another £3 billion of public money by next summer after its shares collapsed the week before by 20 per cent to 365 pence -- lower than the float price of 390 pence.

 Tom Winsor told Railtrack to "put behind itself its discredited and hugely damaging practice of neglect of its assets and hostility to customers and funders."

 The share collapse followed Railtrack reporting a £534 million loss and an admission that it had incurred £733 million costs cleaning up the rail network after the Hatfield crash.

 Clearly Railtrack, as a capitalist enterprise, is dead on its feet. It can only survive by draining yet more and more public money. Yet it can demand this through blackmail -- no cash, no railway -- and so has little motivation to try to operate efficiently.

 There is only one answer. Railtrack must be renationalised. It should cost the taxpayers nothing. The company has repeatedly breached the terms of its franchise and the contract should be cancelled immediately.

 And the same goes for the train operating companies. By undermining the role of guards, they are undermining our safety. They are in breach of the terms of their contracts. Renationalise at once.

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Feature

Unions ready to fight privatisation

by Caroline Colebrook

TRADE union leaders representing millions of workers last week came together to warn Prime Minister Tony Blair not to attempt to privatise any more public services.

 Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union fired the first shot: "The Government has said there should be no ideological bar to the role for the private sector in delivering public services.

 "I, for one, reject the notion that efficient public services can only be provided in partnership with the private sector.

 "It is a belief which is fast becoming an ideology -- one which does immense damage to the morale of hard-working, dedicated public sector employees.

 "The leaked report from the Institute of Public Policy Research [a Government think tank] which advocated greater involvement of the private sector almost guarantees to make the National Health Service look like Railtrack on a bank holiday."

 John Edmonds, general secretary of the general union GMB, warned the Government there is a "real sense of anxiety" about its proposals.

 He said: "If the Government plans to lead an overall increase in private sector involvement in health that will lead to conflict.

 "The only reason to bring in private sector management into the NHS is to bring in the private sector ethic, and that is exactly what we should not do.

 "There will be a big row between the public sector unions -- including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing -- and in that conflict it is likely the unions will be lining up with the public against the Government.

 "The health service is not about producing surpluses, it is about ensuring that people who go through hospitals feel good."

 Last Monday, Dave Prentis, the new general secretary of the giant public sector union Unison, called on Tony Blair to abandon the policy.

 He pointed out that further privatisations will undermine the work of doctors, nurses and all public sector workers. He added that Labour's second term in government could be the last chance to save public services from privatisation.

 He said: "If Labour thinks it has been given a mandate to go ahead with further privatisation of public services, then it had better think again."

 Unison has produced a dossier of evidence for its conference next week showing that private sector deals are poor value for money and lead to cuts in services.

 London Mayor Ken Livingstone joined the debate and warned against involving the private sector in delivering public services.

 "We have to repudiate the dogma that the private sector has all the answers," he said. "If there is a shining example of what is wrong with the privateering agenda for the public services, it is Railtrack."

TUC general secretary John Monks told the annual conference of the AEEU electrical and engineering union that a confrontation with the unions on this issue would be a "disaster" for the Government.

 He called on Cabinet ministers including Health Secretary Alan Milburn and Home Secretary David Blunkett to work with the unions, not against them.

 He spoke of reports that some in the Labour leadership are eager for "an early confrontation" with one of the big public sector unions.

 "I say to them, look at the lessons of history. Look at 1978-79 when there was such a confrontation and it was an electoral disaster for Labour and for trade unionism," he said.

 "We still walk with those ghosts of 20 years ago.

 "My message is clear, no one will be able to deliver better public services by seeking bruising confrontation."

 The mood of the conference became even more antagonistic towards the Government with the announcement of Blair's 40 per cent pay award to himself plus similar high rises for other Government ministers.

 Tony Blair's salary will now rise by £47,000 to £163,000 a year. Cabinet ministers will each get an extra £20,000, taking their salaries to more than £117,000.

 Nigel de Gruchy. general secretary of the teaching union NAS/UWT condemned the rise, saying: "It is obviously one rule for politicians and another for teachers and nurses."

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International

Sinn Fein powers home at the polls

by Steve Lawton

SINN FEIN replaced the SDLP as northern Ireland's chief nationalist party following the Westminster elections. having increased its vote across the board and added two seats to that of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

 The success of Pat Docherty in West Tyrone, predicted by Sim Fein, was crowned by the very narrow victory of Michelle Gildenew in Fermangh-South Tyrone -- the first woman nationalist MP since Bernadette Devlin (McAliskey) and the first Sim Fein MP since Countess Markiewicz in 1918.

 But the seat, with a rough cross-community balance, is a hot one since it is here that Hunger Striker Bobby Sands first took the seat 20 years ago while in the infamous Maze prison where he subsequently died.

 The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP's) James Cooper, who was ousted, is mounting a challenge to her slender win (by 53 votes), citing irregularities. The result in part reflects the damage caused by anti-Agreement unionist Jim Dixon standing as an independent.

 It is also here that Enniskillen, the largest town in the constituency bombed by the IRA in 1987 (where Dixon was injured), has just seen an increase in Sinn Fein's local poll from five to nine seats.

 The SDLP, suffering a general decline in support, now have three MPs with both Seamus Mallon -- deputy first minister, and John Hume retaining their seats with a lower vote.

 At the same time, a big shift has taken place from the UUP to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), reflecting a hardening of the anti-Agreement position. That gave them five seats.

 But three hardline anti-Agreement UUP MPs were also returned with an increased majority, despite other losses to the DUP, enabling them to keep the largest bloc by a whisker with six seats. Trimble was returned, but with a lower vote.

 Supposedly a litmus test of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and progress since, the results of the 18 Parliamentary seats contested in the Six Counties -- which Sinn Fein challenged as a whole for the first time -- were significant enough not to be completely overshadowed by Labour's landslide return to Downing Street.

 The Labour Government, which is resuming talks between the key parties and the Irish Government, now has the urgent task of addressing, chiefly, three festering problems:

  * The policing legislation fiasco that former northern Ireland minister Peter Mandelson engineered, undoing the Patten policing commission proposals and thereby leaving the sinister anti-Catholic RUC essentially intact;

  * the arms decommissioning process that unionists distort to mean that the IRA destroy its weapons, contrary to the agreed process which involves independent monitoring and secured arms dump verification by internationally respected inspectors;

 * the demilitarisation of British occupation of the Six Counties. The British military persists in maintaining a heavy presence in predominantly nationalist, Catholic areas, while the military base and spying infrastructure remains virtually untouched.

 The beleagured leader of the UUP and assembly First Minister David Trimble, hotfooting it to Prime Minister Tony Blair's court on Tuesday, insisted that he will resign on 1 July unless the IRA begin actual destruction of their weaponry.

 The anti-Agreement inroads that the DUP have made into the UUP's electoral showing has no doubt added pace to Trimble's actions, but although his position is being assailed, it is far from being taken.

 Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who was returned with an increased vote, said that the solution lies beyond Trimble: "I would like to think that Blair's increased mandate will allow him to face down the rejectionists within his own establishment."

 The hardline anti-Agreement DUP and pro-Agreement Sinn Fein, gaining largely at the expense of the UUP and SDLP in the general election, has been interpreted as a polarisation of hardline unionism against strengthening republicanism and nationalism.

 But then, nothing on the entire rocky journey toward reconciling both communities --  Protestant and Catholic, nationalist and unionist -- has ever been achieved without some majorr political upsets and hard fought accommodations. This has been so ever since SDLP leader John Hume and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams began, in 1994, to set the ball rolling.

 The 2001 general election -- particularly northern Ireland's local polls -- are an extension of the battle for change that continue to move, by degrees, to a political solution. The local elections showed an evening out of support across the four main parties for the 582 seats, but again Sinn Fein and the DUP advanced significantly. Sinn Fein busted its target 100 seats to take 108, while the SDLP is down to 117; the DUP reached 141 and the UUP dropped to 154. In both Parliamentary and local polls, smaller parties -- Alliance in particular -- suffered heavily.

 Martin McGuinness, reelected with a big increase in his support, took an optimistic view of the electoral outcome: "If you analyse the figures," he told the BBC's Sir David Frost last weekend. "there is probably now more support for the Agreement from right across our community."

 He emphasised: "There will be a huge responsibility to make it absolutely clear to those people who proclaim themselves to be rejectionists, that they are not going to have their way."

 David Trimble's resignation threat -- which the DUP urge him to carry out for supposedly conceding to the IRA -- would be "a blow to the process", he said, "There is a duty on all of us to try and prevent that happening."

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British News

Disabled blockade Birmingham

HUNDREDS of disabled, mentally ill and homeless people have been blockading major traffic routes in and around Birmingham to protest at the closure of seven day centres for vulnerable people.

 They have been supported hy the public sector union Unison and by film and TV comics Norman Wisdom and Jo Brand.

 They are also backed by the residents of Birmingham's residential care homes for the elderly anti severely disabled who are engaged in a separate legal battle, using new human rights legislation, to stop these homes being privatised.

 Unison has warned that Birmingham's £12 cuts programme is likely to be repeated all over Britain as even now under Labour's second term of office, huge cuts are still being forced on local governments.

 Hull City council is seeking ways to cut £30 million from its budget overthree years. This will mean cuts to social services.

 Unison estimates that the Birmingham cuts will cost 850 jobs.

 Mick Lewis, who uses a threatened homeless centre in Summerhill, said: "It is totally gob-smacking. Money was wasted on glossy leaflets promoting the city's "culture" which could instead have been spent on services helping more than 1,000 people a week."

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