It is like living on a fault line -- everyone knows the ground is unstable, but no one can say exactly when the next quake will happen or how devastating it will be.
But unlike earthquakes, the crises that beset capitalist society are not natural disasters but arise from the forces and contradictions in the system itself.
Once again there are the warning signs of the next recession. Britain's trade deficit has grown, the strong pound has hit exports and manufacturing bosses are pessimistic and openly talk of recession.
There have already been job losses around the world, including in Britain, arising directly from the severe economic crisis in the capitalist countries of Asia.
The financial market in the United States is nervous and fears last week that US interest rates might rise sent shock waves around the world's markets. The panic caused share prices on the London Stock Exchange to fall sharply last Monday.
The FT index settled down later when the interest rate scare abated. But the whole business is an example of the mercurial nature of the markets, which in these days of fast communication react to each other in a matter of minutes, and the underlying crisis that afflicts the entire capitalist world.
If it were just a matter of stocks and shares going up and down and the rich gamblers on the City markets getting their fingers burned from time to time we wouldn't shed any tears at all.
Unfortunately the capitalist class, whose system creates the crises and recurring slumps, also tries to solve its problems at the expense of the working class -- and when pushed it squeezes the middle strata as well.
Recession means higher levels of unemployment, increased pressure to bring down wages and worsen working conditions and more cutbacks in social spending. For the rich it means more mergers and take-overs leaving the wealthiest capitalists with even more assets while small and medium-sized business people are pushed out.
For the working class it is a disaster. Workers have no unearned income, no handed-down fortunes, no assets to fall back on -- they have only their labour power to sell. Unemployment means poverty, debt, being subjected to the indignities of means-testing, growing anxiety and ill health and can even lead to the loss of a home.
And yet, while millions endure the disaster of unemployment and are prevented from contributing to production, further mi Ilions throughout the world lack the basic necessities of life and millions more are in need of the goods which could be produced.
The problem is not that there is not enough demand but that people do not have enough money to buy the things they need. They do not have enough money because they are either unemployed or are paid very low wages.
It sounds crazy. But the system is not intended to help us, it is designed to benefit the capitalist class, the wealthy elite -- and it's not crazy for them, they are coining it in all the time. In fact one of their few worries is where to find outlets for investment of their capital.
Life does not have to be like this. If state power, which at present is in the hands of a minority -- the capitalist class -- was wrested away and seized by the working class -the majority of the people, our lives would no longer be in the hands of the profit hungry who care nothing for any of us.
The economy could then be planned and designed to make a better life for everyone. Workplaces would no longer close down because the owners decided to sell up and build a warehouse or a block of permanently empty offices, or because a stock market crashed on the other side of the world. And when changes in production did have to be made people would not be thrown on a scrapheap to exist on a pittance.
Such a change will not come about by changing a govemment -- only a revolutionary change will free us from the oppression of capitalist state power.
Today is May Day when we celebrate the struggle of working people throughout the world. It is a day to rededicate ourselves to the cause of the working class and the socialist future that is ours to win.
The strike is solid. All the factories have closed together with the food sector and the breweries. The builders have walked out paralysing the construction industry. public transport is virtually non-existent. Strikers have closed the ferries, buses and most of the air-sector -- hit by a walk-out of ground control personnel. Scandinavian Airlines SAS has been grounded.
Petrol supplies are already running low due to the action of the tank truck drivers. All the newspapers bar one have been knocked out by the printers and only the TV stations remain open. The general strike, the first since 1985, was called following the rejection of a mediators' 4.5 per cent overall pay offer in a mandatory national postal ballot by 56 per cent. The bosses insisted that any new deal should not increase company costs in any way. Their refusal to budge, at a time when the economy is booming, or to consider the demand for extra holidays, hardened opinion amongst the workers.
The Danish national trade union federation LO, has made it clear that essential services will be maintained. Without compromising the effectiveness of the strike, they are prepared to make case-by-case exemptions in a number of areas like hospitals and emergency services.
Public opinion is backing the strike which is a bitter blow to
the centre-left coalition led by Social-Democrat Prime Minister Poul Nyrup
Rasmussen. He now fears that his referendum seeking approval for the European
Union's Amsterdam Treaty will be in jeopardy if the strike goes on much
But the unions have warned that they are prepared to stay out for weeks unless their demands are met.
People have started hoarding food and petrol and food riots have already broken out in several supermarkets as supplies run out. Along the border with Germany roads have been clogged with Danes crossing over to buy food and tank up.
"The members have spoken, and have spoken clearly," SiD (general workers) President Poul Erik Skov Christensen declared. "The 'no' vote on the mediators' proposal was caused mainly by the employers' tactical games. The employers centralised the collective negotiations to an unprecedented degree, and our members reacted against that".
"Now we are going into a dispute," he said. "It's good that such a big proportion of the membership took part in the vote and that the outcome was so clear. So we are now going to make sure that the dispute is conducted as effectively as possible. We are well prepared, both financially and organisationally".
The employers should seize the opportunity to resolve the conflict Skov Christensen said, but he added "At the same time, I strongly warn the politicians against meddling in the dispute, which is a matter between the labour market partners [the unions and employers]".
So far the employers federation remains stubborn. Some are calling for a national lock-out and an all-out confrontation with organised labour. Others are trying to recruit scabs to try and break the strike -- with little success so far.
The Copenhagen stock exchange dipped three percent this week and
Premier Rasmussen, whose weak Social-Democrat/ Radikal Venstre (farmers
party) coalition was only re-elected a month ago is coming underheavy pressure
to intervene on behalf of the bosses. But should he do so he risks upping
the ante in what has been, so far, a relatively peaceful dispute. Any attempt
to force the workers back to work could change that, threaten his government
a long wi dr the Eurostate vote set for the end of May.
Earlier this year the company threatened to close its factories in Britain at Luton and Ellesmere Port but frantic union negotiations and the promise of government grants from Trade and Industry Secretary Margaret Beckctt produced a change of heart -- with strings attached.
These strings include increased productivity, "flexibility" and
on. The unions will have to agree to Vauxhall hiving off work to outside subsidiaries which pay their workers a lot less, use more part-time staff, vary holidays and time off and introduce other measures to cut costs and tie production more closely to the peaks and troughs of demand.
New workers will be taken on at 82 per cent of existing rates and only get the full rate after three years. They will also get five days less holiday.
The pay aspects of the deal include a 3.5 per cent pay rise this year from 3 August and next year a rise of either three per cent or the rate of inflation, which ever is highest.
After that, in the year 2,000, the rise will be tied to the inflation rate but will be increased by 0.5 per cent if the average sterling exchange rate falls below 2.7 Deutschemarks for two consecutive months.
Vauxhall chairperson and managing director Nick Reilly had wanted that the future of the company in Britain depended on the deal being accepted.
And he underlined the seriousness of the threat by voluntarily giving up his own basic salary of £160,000 for a year in the hope this would inspire the workforce to agree to the deal.
But he will still qualify for bonuses and other benefits in excess of £90,000.
* Unions at Rover last month agreed a new deal involving flexible working hours for the proposed BMW plant in Warwickshire, due to open in the year 2000.
The 1,500 workers at the factory will work an average 37 hours a week but will be credited any extra hours they work, or debited if they work fewer hours, in all "hours bank".
This means in effect that overtime is not paid for but in theory,
can be taken as time off in lieu when work is slack. The company says this
"working time account" will allow for peaks and troughs.
Contrary to press speculation that Sinn Fein was seeking "clarification" in the wake of the multiparty talks, he said the 90-minute meeting with the British Premier and northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlem was about the continuing process of working for Irish unity that goes far beyond the 22 May referenda.
That meant discussion encompassed a wide range of issues: Social, economic and political rights, demilitarisation, a new policing order, prisoners' release, concern over the two recent killings of young Catholics and the forthcoming protestant Orange Order parade season (especially flashpoints like Drumcree), as well as cultural matters -- principally the Irish language.
He also raised the issue of bugging. Listening devices at Senior Sinn Fein negotiator Gerry Kelly's relative's home had been there for around three years. He pointed the finger at the securocrats in the British establishment who are still trying to undermine efforts to settle the conflict.
Gerry Kelly said this treatment is assumed, but with negotiations having reached such a serious level, he regarded this as "an act of bad faith". Just as there has been frequent harassment of the Sinn Fein negotiators throughout the talks process.
And the claim by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) No voters -- based on an alleged leaked document -- that the British military planned to pull out of northern Ireland, was denied by British defence secretary George Robertson last Sunday. So too did Sinn Fein leaders who said it was an attempt by the securocrats to scuttle the Agreement and put fear into Yes-voter unionists.
Gerry Adams said after the Downing Street meeting: "I made a point that while the British government may feel that they have to settle the unionists and get them bedded in, and get the referendum over, that with the reduction of the British constitutional claim to one act, we think the logical next step is for the British to encourage and facilitate movement towards Irish unity."
Most marches, he said, are not in question -- it is the particularly sectarian targets like Drumcree that Sinn Fein and the nationalist community are concerned about. "Change has to be seen by people in those areas so badly affected by ongoing conflict.
"And even though we have not got a settlement, it is important to proceed with demilitarisation...both the presence and behaviour of the British troops and the RUC on the ground is something that is not helpful at this time."
Former Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten, a Catholic and former Tory Chairman, is to head the new commission on policing which will extend to aspects of the criminal justice system. While SDLP leaderJohn Hume and some unionists cautiously welcomed this move, the DUP and Grand Orange Lodge are critical. Sinn Fein await the full listofcommission members before commenting.
The Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said last Sunday that the constitutional future of northern Ireland relies exclusively on the principle of consent.
With a majority voting in favour,in the north and in the south, he said, Britain was "effectively ruled out of the equation" and will therefore have no "legal right under this agreement to impede the achievement of Irish unity." Both the governing party Fianna Fail and the opposition parties, including Fine Gael, are campaigning for a Yes vote.
And in a growing sign of pressure for support of the Agreement, European Union (EU) foreign ministers -- briefed by British foreign secretary Robin Cook and Irish foreign minister David Andrews -- overwhelmingly endorsed a declaration of sunport for the Agreement. They called on north and south to "seize this opportunity to build a peaceful future based on partnership, equality and mutual respect."
This was taken as a sign that EU funding for social and economic development -- primarily in northern Ireland and the border counties -- would increase as part of the effort to ensure a lasting solution to the decades of conflict.
Fresh claims regarding the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre have been made in the Irish weekly The Sunday Tribune last week. It's report carries new accounts by eye witnesses which suggest that the British Army knew well in advance that the Derry civil rights march would lead to military action. Sinn Fein councillor Mary Nelis is calling for Derry to be represented at the Bloody Sunday inquiry.
THE MAGNET Kitchen strikers, who have fought a 20 month battle to get their jobs back, last week reluctantly agreed to accept a £850,000 compensation package, nego tiated by the GMB, UCATT, and TGWU unions.
The entire workforce of 320 workers were sacked in August 19% forgoing on strike in a legal and union-supported dispute over pay -- precisely the kind of workers who were supposed to be protected from unfair dismissal by new laws pledged in Labour's manifesto last year.
But the Green Paper for those laws has not yet even been drafted as the Confederation of British Industry, the bosses' union, has been trying to delay and sabotage it.
The workers last week voted by 47 votes to 34 to accept the deal which will give each of the 81 still holding out just £8.500 each and lesseramounts for those who have since found other jobs.
This is not much compensation for the loss of 20 months wages and will soon be clawed back by cuts in Jobseekers' Allowance and other benefits.
For most of the dispute the company refused to even talk to union representatives, until earlier this year the strikers and supporters from the National Union of Mineworkers changed tactics and began picketing the £1.5 million Cambridge mansion of Alan Bowkett.
He is the chief executive of Magnet's parent company, Berisford, and last year received a pay rise of £124,000.
This is more than the £l14,000 it would have taken to settle the original pay demand for a three per cent rise after a three-year pay freeze.
Picketers bought a chicken farm near Bowkett's home so they could not legally be removed for secondary picketing.
This action brought the company to the negotiating table where the compensation deal was hammered out.
Neither of the unions involved in the negotiations, the TGWU and GMB, recommended acceptance of the deal but the strikers felt they had had enough.
Shop steward Ian Crammond said: "What more can we do? The scabs who are in there deserve all they are going to get."
But they are not discouraged, their fight has had an impact and they know it. The women's support group secretary, Shirley Winter, said: "We have sent out a message that workers will not be bullied.
"Magnet wouldn't even accept there was an industrial dispute, but in the end they came to the table.
And TGWU chief negotiator Len McCluskey described the strikers' stand as a "courageous struggle".
GMB national officer Phil Davies said this dispute is a "classic example of why the current labour laws should be changed to protect strikers.
"It is outrageous that a group of workers who conducted a legal
ballot should be dismissed for taking action over a derisory pay offer."