The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 16th May, 1997


Workers of all countries, unite!


Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition

Please feel free to use this material provided the New Worker is informed and credited.


Editorial - Human rights.
Lead Story - Queen's speech - Labour to end "two-tier" NHS.
Feature - Eurotunnel: scrap the open-sided wagons.
International - Zairean rebels enter Kinshasa.
British News - Firefighters dispute wins "core demands".



Editorial


Human rights


BRITAIN'S new Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, says the Labour government "will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy. ..". This will include exerting pressure on certain countries to adopt or restore "democratic government".

He also says new export licences will not be granted for arms sales to regimes deemed likely to use the weapons for internal oppression or extemal aggression.

It sounds almost nice -- a cosy, crusading foreign office doing its best to make the world a happier and fairer place.

The trouble is we've heard all this stuff before from Western leaders. The targets of these "human rights" campaigns are invariably countries in the developing world who are themselves victims of exploitation by the advanced capitalist powers. All too often they are governments which are regarded as thorns in imperialism's side -- "human rights" campaigns are but a stick to beat them with.

Western leaders, who have so much to say about "human rights" abroad, never address the injustices of capitalism or the abuses and crimes carried out by their own regimes.

We wait to see if the Foreign Secretary is going to focus his energies on ending the injustice of Britain's occupation of northern Ireland? Will he make the Irish peace process a top priority for his office?

And while the government ponders which countries will not be trusted to buy aircraft and arms from Britain, will it also condemn Britain's own huge arsenals -- including the Trident nuclear weapons system -- a force so destructive that it could murder millions of human beings at the press of a button?

After all, what is Trident for if not to threaten others? And even if it is never used for making war it will still have done us great harm by sucking in billions of pounds from the pockets of the British working class and literally pouring that money into the sea.

Nor is there anything new about the Foreign Office trying to export what it calls, "democratic government". This has been a long-standing feature of western foreign policy.

What it means, though it is not spelled out, is exporting that form of democracy which best suits capitalism and which enables the big corporations, major banks and monopoly finance capital to operate smoothly and largely unhindered.

The United States has "democratic government". But it so badly serves the working class of that country that millions of Americans don't vote at all. It is not surprising that millions of working class Americans find elections irrelevant when they see fortunes being spent promoting one millionaire over another millionaire.

And yet the United States criticises the socialist democracy of neighbouring Cuba. It does all in it's power to rise a storm of protest against Cuba and falsely asserts that it breaches "human rights".

But socialist democracy in Cuba involves all of the people. The elected representatives have no gravy trains to climb on and they continue to live and work among the people who voted for them. The Cuban people see no need for millionaires' parties and razamatazz election campaigns to sell them candidates with the smiles of crocodiles and the motives of carpet-baggers.

The "human rights" crusaders have relentlessly targeted all of the socialist countries for many decades. They have focused their attention on every country that has dared to stand up to imperialism and the ruthless exploitation of western capital.

But through all of this time they have failed to condemn and attack their own puppet governments and collaborating regimes.

Where, for instance, was the condemnation of General Mobuto of Zaire? Where was the vigorous campaign against apartheid in South Africa? Where was the condemnation of the Zionist occupation of Palestine?

The term "human rights" has come to mean "capitalist rights". It is used not to advance the interests of the majority of the world's people but to further their oppression.

We need to reclaim the words and raise the demands for genuine human rights -- the rights to life, to live in peace, to have sufficient food and clean water, to education and health care, to have shelter and employment. These are the issues we want the new British government to fight for.
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Lead Story


Queen's speech - Labour to end "two-tier" NHS


THE new Labour government is to introduce a White Paper on Britain's health service which will start the process of dismantling the "internal market " in the NHS. It aims to end the "two-tier" system introduced by the Tories eight years ago.

The proposed legislation was one of several measures announced in last Wednesday Queen's Speech given at the opening of Parliament.

The White Paper is an important first step in getting rid of the present market place system in which hospitals and GPs compete with each other for both funds and patients. It will put the brakes on the long slide towards backdoor privatisation of health care.

The government says it also intends to tackle the bureaucracy of the health service so that less money is spent on paperwork and administration and more is released for direct patient care.

This is a welcome move, but it does not address the serious underfunding of the health service and the many shortages and difficulties it faces. Just redirecting money from one area of the service to another comes nowhere near to providing the massive injection of funds the NHS needs.

Housing

As expected the government says it will publish a Bill allowing local councils to spend the money they made from selling council housing stock. The Tory government stopped councils from using this money which has been effectively locked-up for years.

It is expected to release around 5 billion which can now be used for new house building and housing renovation schemes. But it will not all come at once. The money will be made available gradually.

This will help to provide some much needed affordable housing and should provide work for the building industry.

There is a serious shortage of low rent accommodation in Britain and although this measure will bring some relief to the situation it does not address the whole problem or the longer-term housing needs of the country.

Further government action is necessary.

Education

Throughout the election campaign the Labour Party made much of its promises on education.

The measures outlined in the Queen's Speech were therefore what we expected.

The Tories' disastrous nursery vouchers scheme is to be scrapped. Money from the scheme will now be made available to guarantee places in school for all four-year-olds. Eventually, says the government, places need to be found for all three year-olds as well.

Also, as expected, the government plans to phase out the assisted places scheme. This will end the practice of independent schools offering scholarships at public expense.

The money saved will be used to carry out another Labour manifesto pledge -- to cut class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds to below 30.

Unfortunately all the measures outlined in the Queen's Speech are limited by the government's intention to peg public spending to present, or near present, levels. Without a policy of progressive taxation that would make the rich pay more and without addressing the huge sums spent on defence, the government has relatively little room to manoeuvre.

This means that some of the practices introduced by the Tories will continue.

Private financing deals for capital projects will remain. Since no private capital is ever invested without the prospect of profit and gain, the public bodies that use this form of funding will find themselves in long-term hock to the money lenders. Education is one area of public service using this form of capitalraising bondage.

Scotland and Wales

The government announced there would be referendums later this year in Scotland and Wales to decide on the establishment of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly.

Handguns

The government plans to introduce a Bill banning all privately held handguns, including the .22 calibre guns exempted by Tory legislation.

Windfall Tax

The introduction of a windfall tax on the high profits made by the privatised utility companies will be included in a Finance Bill to be announced after the budget.

The money raised will be used for a "welfare to work" scheme aimed at getting 250,000 young people into jobs.

Employers will be paid to take on the young workers -- but the scheme does not address the long-standing decline of Britain's manufacturing industry and will not deal with the long-term problem of high unemployment.

But no government under capitalism can provide full employment -- that can only come about in a socialist society.
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Feature


Eurotunnel: scrap the open-sided wagons


by Daphne Liddle

THIS FIRE Brigades Union (FBU) is seeking an urgent meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, over the plans to continue using open-sided wagons when the Channel Tunnel freight service resumes soon.

This follows last week's long-awaited publication of the report into the causes of last November's Channel Tunnel blaze.

The report found many faults in the safety aspects of the management of the tunnel. But it did not insist on the scrapping of the open-sided wagons even though the design allowed the fire to spread from one wagon to another.

The chairperson of the Channel Tunnel safety authority, Roderick Allison, did say he would welcome a decision to phase out the open wagons "with open arms".

But Eurotunnel has just ordered another two of the 800 metre shuttles at a cost of 130 million to meet growing demand from the road freight industry.

The govemments of France and Britain have yet to give the final go-ahead for the resumption of the freight service through the tunnel and the FBU is lobbying hard to get the open-sided wagons banned.

FBU assistant general secretary Mike Fordham accused the Eurotunnel management of putting profit before safety. He said: "We're extremely disappointed by the report. We believe we had a golden opportunity to learn the lessons before there is a serious disaster with tragic loss of life. That opportunity has been missed."

He explained that the design of the shuttle "was the all-important" question. "Eurotunnel", he went on, "told us before that it couldn't happen, that their safety procedures would work And now we hear they're being told to make 30 further improvements to those procedures.

"Eurotunnel seem to be taking the attitude that it's their commercial risk therefore it's down to us. But we're not prepared to put our members at risk in those circumstances."

Earlier in the week FBU representatives said they might in future leave a tunnel fire to burn itself out -- once all the people on its had been rescued -- rather than risk firefighters' lives to prevent damage to the tunnel itself and rolling stock.

FBU executive member for Kent Tony Wilshaw said that in future the brigade might tackle only life-threatening fires, and once people had been evacuated, firefighters would withdraw and leave the blaze to burn.

And Mike Fordham said: "We are not satisfied that these open-sided wagons are safe. In spite of Eurotunnel's denials, they can produce a blow-torch effect and are a potential hazard."

The report on the November blaze found that fire detectors in the tunnel gave only unconfirmed alarms of the blazing fire; the onboard fire detectors failed to give an early alarm; staff training was inadequate leading to many mistakes; they failed to halt other trains in the tunnel to prevent the build up of smoke and fumes.

The Eurotunnel management failed to respond to a staff performance audit last year which highlighted many points of concern in the control centre; fire prevention doors should have been closed but were not; the Ken tpolice were not notified that the fire was a bi-national emergency for 13 minutes and essential instructions were either forgotten, incorrectly applied, applied too late or in the wrong order.
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International


Zairean rebels enter Kinshasa


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ZAIREAN rebel units are now moving into the suburbs of the capital Kinshasa, as last-ditch efforts continue for another face-to-face meeting between General Mobuto and rebel leader Laurent Kabila, to avert a battle for control of the last bastion of Mobutoism.

The two men were scheduled to meet aboard a South African naval vessel moored off the mouth of the Congo river last Wednesday, but Kabila was called away. Presumably, he was dealing with operational matters as his rebel army advances on all fronts towards Kinshasa.

International efforts are continuing to persuade General Mobuto to negotiate a peaceful surrender of the capital to avoid further fighting, but also to deter what's left of his army going on a final rampage through the stores and the quarters of the rich.

There was considerable disappointment at the return of General Mobuto after a brief tour of West Africa designed to drum up some support for his plan for an interim coalition government. Mobuto returned empty-handed, but many hoped he would use the opportunity to finally depart the scene and spend his final days in his villa in France.

The rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire now controls over 90 per cent of the mineral-rich African country after seven months of fighting.

Archbishop Laurent Mossengwo was elected speaker last weekend by the Zairea'n parliament in a move by former Mobuto politicians aimed at helping Mobuto on his way.

Under the constitution he could assume the role of temporary head of state if the president resigns or is prevented from fulfilling his duties. But Mossengwo showed no eagerness to take up this role and the rebels want nothing to do with him.

Archbishop Mossengwo briefly held the post of speaker in 1995 and now he says he's willing to act as "constitutional mediator" to end the crisis. And according to the Kinshasa press, General Mobuto is on the brink of resigning on the grounds of ill-health -- he's dying of cancer -and is willing to hand over power to Mossengwo.

But in Brussels, the Archbishop said that his appointment would have to be guaranteed nationally and internationally, and must be approved by the Catholic church in Zaire and in the Vatican.

This failed to impress the Alliance. Rebel foreign minister Bizima Karaha of the rebels' self proclaimed Democratic Republic of Congo, said that if Mossengwo accepts the post, he would take "the entire responsibility for a possible blood-bath in Kinshasa".

Karaha urged Westerners still in Kinshasa to go, warning that Mobuto's troops were planning to massacre them to justify an international intervention in Zaire.

The British government has repeated its previous call for all it's citizens to get out now, and the United States has warned all Americans to leave immediately. Nicholas Burns of the US State Department said the "end-game" was approaching and that it was "too unstable" to stay.

Meanwhile, the government radio station in the capital has said the army -- which now means little more than Mobuto's crack Presidential Guard -- will defend Kinshasa and urged the people to arm themselves.

Few, if any, will be prepared to die for Mobuto today. The opposition forces in Kinshasa and the resistance have called for a general strike and the people are now openly showing their support for the rebel Alliance. The liberation of Kinshasa can only be a matter of days.



British News


Firefighters dispute wins "core demands"


by Steve Lawton

ESSEX firefighters have won virtually all the demands in their battle to secure fire service safety for themselves and the public, and to maintain crew and training levels.

Last week on 8 May, Essex firefighters suspended their strike agenda, due to take effect from 6pm that day. A further three strike days had been planned, but the new Essex county council Lib-Lab administration, with Labour county leader Mervyn Juliff at the helm, informed Essex Fire Brigades Union officials that an offer was on the table.

Firefighters had initially been very wary of the county council offer last Thursday. FBU members wanted to know what was on offer before they suspended strike action. This was then forthcoming, so FBU negotiators engaged council leaders.

Local FBU secretary Keith Handscomb said: "On Thursday morning [8 May] we broke the deadlock by calling off that evening's strike. Within hours we were in talks with the county council to try to resolve this dispute. It was agreed on Friday that members would be balloted."

A new offer was put to the firefighters after six hours of talks. Mervyn Juliff believed it would be acceptable to both sides in the dispute.

The offer includes:

1) halting the planned closure of Leigh and Rochford fire stations;

2) postponing the fire cover review until April 1998 when the new fire authority takes effect;

3) upgrading full-time staffing levels with the first intake to begin in September 1997;

4) no reduction in fire appliances;

5) and partial reinstatement of brigade's training budget with no reduction of front-line training.

The fire cover review will now coincide with the new fire authority which will consist of representatives of the newly-elected county council as well as the newly-formed unitary councils of Thurrock and Southend.

Keith Handscomb said it was: "A genuine attempt to resolve the dispute which has been running since March." He thought this offer went "a long way to addressing the core issues." He said: "These proposals will provide a decent fire service Essex and, if agreed, are a victory for common-sense."

Stefan Stern of the Independent Industrial Society said: "Clearly, in the public services, budgets are extremely tight and there have been wage freezes, so there's bound to be people under pressure.

"And they will notice that on this occasion industrial action seems to have persuaded people to think again about the numbers and try to produce a better deal. That's bound to be an interesting example for other people."

But some councillors are already raising objections. LibDem leader Ken Jones said that because of the rate capping other budgets will be slashed. The result of the county-wide firefighters' ballot will be known on 22 May.

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