The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 16th March 2001

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Editorial - Good news?
Lead Story - Rail safety system now!
Feature - "Someone is pulling their strings".
International - Sinn Fein: "We stand as one".
British News - Hackney workers burn new contracts.


Good news?

GOVERNMENTS naturally want as much good news as they can find when an election comes around. Blair is therefore happy to see the latest unemployment figures showing the official jobless total sliding below the one million mark.

 Of course, as our paper has always pointed out, the official numbers are well and truly crunched to give the best possible results.

 Considering things were done in just the same way when the Tories were in government, it is ironic to see the Daily Telegraph (14 March) correctly explaining that: "Since 1975 the method of calculating unemployment has changed at least 31 times -- with many people excluded from the count ...".

 There is no doubt the real number of unemployed is much higher than this latest claim since the Government only counts those actually claiming the Job Seekers' Allowance -- for instance, those looking after children or sick and elderly relatives at home do not sign on, many over-50s who have been obliged to take early retirement do not sign on, and of course the unemployment register does not include those dn training schemes, students and the sick.

 It is true that unemployment has come down since the grim days of the late 1980s. The relentless loss of manufacturing jobs, which is still continuing, has to some extent been offset by an expansion in the service sector -- though it has to be said that many of the new jobs can't hold a candle to the old ones when it comes to wages and conditions.

 There are also wide regional differences in employment with many places in the north of England and Scotland having very high levels of unemployment and its inevitable consequence -- poverty.

 The current euphoria about the Government's figures has even led some economic pundits to proclaim that full employment could be achieved in the next few years.

 Much as the politicians might want us to believe this, it is not the future in a crisis-ridden, capitalist-dominated world. Already the next recession is kicking-in in the United States and that is adding fuel to another serious crisis in Japan and the other capitalist countries of Asia -- countries that have never fully recovered from the last major economic storm.

 Just because the new crisis looming over the United States has not yet hit Europe with the force felt in Japan, it does not mean we have escaped -- sooner or later the entire capitalist world will rock with the crisis and unemployment will soar once again.

 Even as these latest figures were being announced news was also breaking of further job losses -- this time in the new high technology industries. Cable & Wireless are planning 4,000 job losses worldwide of which half are likely to be in Britain. And the mobile phone company, Motorola, is expected to axe some 700 jobs in this country.

 Throughout last week the stocks and shares markets of the world have seen dramatic nosedives and partial recoveries. Of course we are not going to lose any sleep over the misfortunes of the rich. The trouble is the rich only want the good times to be their private bonanza -- the bad times they always push onto us.

 It is also clear that the share indexes are not simply reflecting the new over-priced dot. com companies coming up against reality. This time the values are falling on established firms and companies that actually produce stuff.

 As always it is the effect of the over production crisis -- too many goods for the markets to absorb. The people cannot afford to buy all the goods being produced.

 This is nothing to do with a lack of "consumer confidence" or goods being surplus to requirement. There are millions and millions of people in the world who have so little that they cannot even afford the basic necessities of life.

 Why else has this week also seen the hype for another dollop of the not-so-funny Comic Relief. How ever many millions this charity raises it will be a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the problem. Only the end of capitalism will see the end of poverty. Only socialism will end unemployment once and for all. Only socialism provides a future for humanity!

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Lead Story

Rail safety system now!

by Daphne Liddle

THE NUMBER of incidents of trains passing signals at danger (spads) is continuing to increase with 33 such incidents recorded in January this year and the February figures expected to match this.

 This is 13 years after the Clapham rail disaster in which 35 people died, four years after Southall in which seven people died, two years after Ladbrooke Grove in which 31 people died and Hatfield in which four people died.

 Clapham. Southall and Ladbrooke Grove were all caused by spads. They could all have been prevented by the Automatic Train Protection system which stops any train passing through a red light and which was recommended afterthe Clapham disaster.

 The Tory government of the time promised to fit it throughout Britain's railways but reneged because of cost.

 Labour promised to "do something" after Ladbrooke Grove. We are still waiting.

 The urgency was underlined again last week by a spad incident at Hither Green in southeast London.

 Quick action by an alert driver averted a major disaster but nine people were slightly injured as one packed commuter train clipped the back end of another which had just passed a red light. We cannot count on drivers being so alert according to a rail safety report due to be published later this month, but leaked to the press last week.

 It found that fatigue among railway workers is putting passenger safety at great risk.

 The Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis System (Ciras), brought in last year as a hotline for whistle-blowers has revealed widespread fatigue among rail staff through excessive overtime.

 One signaller reported he has worked 30 consecutive days without a break. It was exactly this kind of fatigue that led to a signal box being left with a trailing wire that gave a confusing signal and led to the Clapham disaster.

 After that inquiry, British Rail, as it was then, pledged to stop such dangerous working practices.

 That was before privatisation and sweeping job cuts among skilled staff, leaving those remaining to work even longer hours to cover the work.

 The Government has promised that if the rail safety report recommends the fitting of ATP, it will carry this out. But such pledges have been broken before.

 Railtrack and the rail companies would prefer the cheaper Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) which they say could be fitted more quickly.

 This does network as well and would not stop trains travelling at over 75 miles an hours. In any case, it is only planned to fit it at "key" junctions.

 Meanwhile the repercussions of the Hatfield crash, caused by a crumbling rail, mean that speed Limits will remain in place on some dodgy stretches of tail until the end of the year, before all the sections that need replacing have been done.

 The Hither Green incident provided an unfavourable backdrop for the release of the Government's proposed l0-year plan for the renewal of our railways last week.

 Passengers are warned not to "invest too much emotion in it". In other words the plans are very tentative, to be fleshed out later in the year. This week's announcement is basically an election sop.

 The plans include considerable extensions of the rail network -- the first significant start to reversing the damage wreaked by Dr Beeching in the 1960s -- if they happen.

 The plans also involve considerable extensions to the Tube network in London.

 Announcing the new plans, Sit Alastair Morton, chief of the Strategic Rail Authority, suggested that Railtrack could be broken in two. He also said the plans would be financed by a "public-private partnership" -- a recipe for making sure whatever is done is done on the cheap and our descendants will inherit decades of paying off debts to private financiers.

 If the privatisation of the railways has shown anything, it is that breaking the system up causes disasters in every way. Further break-up will mean further disasters.

 A number of the projects listed by Morton are not new. They have been on Railtrack's list of what must be done for some time. Railtrack has already been granted funds to do them -- several times.

 Yet Railtrack is forever coming back, cap in hand to the taxpayers saying it cannot carry out the work without more money. The money is paid but the work doesn't happen.

 Railtrack claims the fall out from the Hatfield crash has drained all its coffers. That crash was Railtrack's responsibility -- the company sub-contracted rail maintenance out to incompetent cowboys.

 Attempting any major regeneration of our railways while they remain in private hands is doomed to further disaster and waste of money.

 Renationalisation is the only answer. The taxpayers must have direct control, through the elected Governmenf over the ownership and running of our public transport. Anything else will be pouring yet more money down the drain.

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"Someone is pulling their strings"

by Caroline Colebrook

THE MANAGEMENT of London Underground is being prevented from reaching a settlement of the long-running Tube dispute over the proposed partial privatisation and safety, unions said last week.

 They were speaking after the announcement that London Underground workers belonging to the RMT transport union had voted by 92 per cent once again to take strike action against the breaking up and partial privatisation of the Tube on grounds that this will jeopardise safety.

 The unions have been accused of scare-mongering over safety implications but the Government's own watchdog, the Health and Safety Executive, has reported that the sell-off proposals, as they stand, are not safe.

 The RMT, together with the drivers' union Aslef, has set the date of the first one-day strike for 29 March.

 This follows a one-day strike last month on the same issue that was to have been staged by both unions jointly.

 But London Underground management obtained a court order on a technicality preventing RMT taking a direct part in that strike and forcing the union to re-ballot.

 RMT assistant general secretary Bob Crow said last Friday, after the ballot result was announced: "Our members have voted 11-1 in favour of strike action. We have named 29 March to coincide with the International Transport Federation's worldwide safety day when hundreds of thousands of rail workers in over 40 countries will be campaigning to put safety before profit.

 "This dispute isn't about jobs for life, it is about saving lives. We are trying to avoid a repeat of the catastrophe on the former British Rail when thousands of experienced safety-conscious rail workers were axed.

 "I do have to say that I am aeeply saddened that we have been forced into this position.

 "I did feel that we would be able to reach a deal with London Underground but fear they have been prevented from settling this dispute.

 "Someone is pulling their strings."

 His words were backed up by Aslef district secretary Steve Grant, who said: "As well as coinciding with International Rail safety day by naming 29 March, we are also allowing London Underground, or whoever is conducting their negotiations, ample time to reach a settlement.

 "Our drivers are telling us that the intensive service levels and narrow margin for error on the Underground means any breakdown in safety will have horrific consequences.

 "Our members are prepared to lose a further day's pay to put safety first because neither they, nor the public, can afford a Hatfield on the Tube."

 The HSE last Monday gave London Underground management a list of 69 key issues concerning safety that must be addressed before the sell-off can go ahead.

 Many of the points relate to the limits of overcrowding and, in the case of an emergency, exactly who is supposed to do what. The HSE is also very concerned about the fact that many Tube stations are unstaffed outside peak travel times.

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Sinn Fein: "We stand as one"

by Steve Lawton

GERRY ADAMS, president of Sinn Fein, asked Party conference delegates in Dublin last weekend to imagine a united Ireland where wealth is "invested creatively... in the interests of all the Irish people, not just some of the Irish people."

 Only Sinn Fein is able to achieve this, he said, because "We are the party of Pearse and Connolly, of Tone and Emmet, of Sands and Farrell -- the republican party determined to achievve the real republic, the republic of the people!"

 The conference, which replaced the rescheduled Ard Fheis due to concerns over foot-and-mouth, came soon after the IRA's move to re-engage with the decommisioning body charged with overseeing arms handover and as British Premier Tony Blair began new talks.

 The Uster Unionist Party leader David Trimble has been playing the arms card to block Sinn Fein's mandated right to be represented on the north-south ministerial council.

 Unionists and Loyalists have been creating the impression that the IRA is persistently back-tracking from its ceasefire. That it has been engaging in a cosmetic exercise by revealing certain arms dumps which are then rigorously monitored. Whatever the IRA do -- without guns, silently -- quite obviously is never right in the hollier-than-thou arrogance of anti-Agreement unionist leaders.

 This unionist resistance, nevertheless, has failed to overshadow the two key problems that nationalists and republicans want straightened out pronto.

 Namely, the need for British military reductions in sensitive areas, and that Patten Commission RUC reforms be returned to following the former northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson's wrecking of it. As Sinn Fein point out, it was far from ideal in the first place.

 These two key aspects of the · implementation ofthe Good Friday Agreement represent the primary republican focus, however much pressure is applied by the Loyalists, unionists and diehards among British rulers to skew the peace process according to unionist diktat.

 After all, over 70 per cent -- it has to be repeated -- across the communities voted in a referendum for the Agreement. And the IRA statement, which again warned that the British government "must deliver on its obligations" if any progress is now to be made, is directly in line with that Agreement. The British government is not.

 In a statement on 26 February Sinn Fein's chairperson and Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Mitchel McLaughlin, demonstrated why the British government RUC reform plans were seriously unacceptable.

 He said: "The issue of collusion between RUC Special Branch, British military intelligence and Loyalists goes to the heart of our concerns about the creation of a new beginning to policing.

 "The removal of the Special Branch as a force within a force, in line with Patten, and the balance of power between the British secretary of state, the Chief Constable and the proposed Policing Board are two of the key areas..."

 While the Bloody Sunday inquiry revelations continue to quietly emerge, earlier collusion inquiries -- Stalker, Sampson and Stevens -- are stalling. This weight and legacy of hostile British influence and control is what Blair must disentangle if his talks are to mean anything.

 But Sinn Fein's conference revealed a buoyant, optimistic and growing youthful support base that is expanding across all of Ireland. And their forthcoming electoral campaigning promises new breakthroughs, north and south.

 Pat Docherty MLA, vicepresident of Sinn Fein, said that the youth wing Ogra Sim Fein "is the fastest growing, most dynamic and most energetic youth wing of any party in the country."

 He said political strategy not, chance brought this about, in order to move beyond partition to a united Ireland. "We want a chance to implement our policies on social reform and economic democracy," he said, "as well as women's rights, cultural development, children's rights, environmental protectiop, civil liberties, sovereignty and unity."

 As Gerry Adams said, "We stand as one."

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British News

Hackney workers burn new contracts

by Renee Sams & Theo Russell

HACKNEY council workers last Wednesday, 7 March, came out on a 24-hour strike, bringing many council services to a standstill.

 They were protesting about a new job contract that would have cut their pay and conditions and reduced services to the people of Hackney.

 The one-day strike, which may be followed up soon with a five day strike, followed the council's forced withdrawal of a letter, cancelling council workers' contracts after a successful one day strike last month.

 After receiving the letter, strikers took legal advice and were told the letter was unlawful.

 The new job contract signed by council chief executive Max Caller promised job protection to any employee subject to "a reduction in their gross annual salary as at 31 March 2001".

 It went on to say: "This will ensure that no employee loses more than £1,500 salary per annum".

Led by the Reclaim the Streets Samba Band, angry workers stormed through the doors at the Town Hall and led the police a dance around the corridors right up to the balcony, where Noah Tucker, chief regional negotiator for the public sector union Unison, told the demonstrators that management had been forced to back down on a number of points.

 "This was only due to the strength of the industrial action," he said.

 The town hall invaders then proceeded outside to ceremonially burn their new contracts, with safety being taken care of by members of the Rapid Response Rubbish Removal Department and in the presence of supporters from the Fire Brigades Union.

 The strike is receiving good support from local people and as Unison branch secretary John Page said: "The community is not prepared to stand by while this corrupt, rotten borough increases rents and council taxes and slashes services."

 John Rogers of Lambeth Unison and the London Regional Committee told the rally that if the strike in Hackney did not succeed, managers would be targeting council workers borough by borough.

 He told council staff "You can expect the full support of the region until the strike reaches a successful conclusion."

 Staff from social services, the finance department day centres and teachers came out on strike, closing or severely disrupting 12 schools.

 Andrew Baisley, speaking for the National Union of Teachers at Haggerston School, said that "education workers are right behind the strike".

 Altogether some 3,000 took part in the action with offices and other council buildings being picketed.

 Members ofthe TGWU, MSF and GMB general unions refused to cross picket lines and joined the strikers.

 After the rally, strikers staged a march through the streets of the borough and in the evening gathered again outside the town hall, where the council was setting the budget.

 This involves increases in rents and council tax and cuts in jobs and services.

 The council tax in the borough is expected to rise by over £80 a year, while tenants face rent rises of up to £8 a week.

 The borough is currently paying £65 million a year just to service its debts and it has been robbed of £108 million by central government.

The council is also considering an increase in nursery charges to £150 a week, while reducing nursery provision, even though 1,000 children are on the waiting list.

 In the housing department some 220 workers are losing their jobs and £650,000 is being cut from the education department.

 Street cleaning and refuse collection have already been privatised and are now owned by Service team. This company was given £8 million by the Government as a sweetener to take over the contract.

 Other sections of the council workforce are also in line for selling off.

 And all this is happening in a borough where unemployment is amongst the worst in the country, at 14.7 per cent compared to a London average of 6.4 per cent.

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