At the same time Railtrack's shareholders have been told their fat incomes are safe and the good times will continue.
This promise to shareholders has had to be made in order for the company to continue attracting investors -- a necessity in a capitalist market-place where the money always follows the companies offering the highest return with the least risk.
We have all seen the result of giving a vital part of the country's infrastructure to the private sector where it has to produce competitive profits and still try to maintain a safe and efficient service.
The scandalous disasters of recent years show that this has not been achieved and it is clear that the demands of profit-making mean Railtrack cannot provide both safety and efficiency.
It is obvious that the railways should never have been privatised in the first place, that the government should have increased subsidies over the years, at least in line with other European countries, and that the lessons should now be learnt and the railways returned to public ownership and control.
But these are only minimum demands. The interests of the working class need to be projected into the debates going on about transport policies. After all most daily journeys are made by people going to and from their place of work -- journeys which workers have to make and which they pay for themselves out of their wages.
In fact public transport is, and always has been, a system designed to suit the bosses -- a means of getting raw materials and workers to the point of production and finished goods and workers out again.
This is why the "services" are scaled down once the normal working day has ended. Even the capital city cannot boast a 24-hour service (apart from infrequent night buses) and getting around during the Christmas and New Year holidays requires a degree in strategic planning -- most people just forego the party drinks and take the car.
This of course has implications for the environment and efforts to reduce the number of car journeys and consequent levels of polluting car fumes. People cannot use buses, tubes and trains when they are not running at all or when it is hard to guess when the next one will come along.
Privatisation has, as promised, produced a multitude of different companies all trying to get their snouts in the trough. But this has not given passengers any more choice or any of the supposed benefits of competition. A disgruntled passenger going to work on Connex trains can't choose to travel by Virgin or Anglia because each company is specific to each region -- the rail network has not been improved by rivalry but has simply been carved up and served to the City of London on a plate.
Nor can workers vote with their feet by boycotting the most rotten services -- after all we are travelling in order to earn our bread and butter, not going off each day for a jolly at the seaside or a posh lunch in town.
We need changes that go far beyond any of John Prescott's current ideas -- we need to look at the fact that Britain has the lowest direct taxation on incomes and riches in western Europe. The private owners and shareholders of Britain benefit from its infrastructure and should therefore be made to contribute proportionately through the raising of top level income taxes.
If higher taxes on the rich were to be used for increased public spending, including bigger subsidies to public transport, it is also only right that all profits should come back to the people and not be sucked away in private fortunes for a few as happens under privatisation.
We say, put safety before profits, renationalise all public services and utilities, make the rich pay -- raise direct taxes on high incomes and wealth.
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THE GOVERNMENT'S Police (Northern Ireland) Bill has been "gutted" according to Professor Clifford Shearing, a senior member of the Patten commission.
Last Tuesday, in a statement to a national newspaper, Shearing took the Bill apart line by line to show that it bears little relationship to the recommendations of Chris Patten's report.
That report itself was a dilution of the commitment made by the British government when it signed the Good Friday Agreement. The original commitment was to abolish the Royal Ulster Constabulary - so tainted was it with bias against the nationalist community in the occupied counties of the north of Ireland.
Professor Shearing, who is the director of the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto, said: "The Patten report has not been cherry picked, it has been gutted."
He said the Bill, which faced its third reading in the House of Lords during the week, had had its fundamentals dismantled in some key areas.
He said it watered down the report's recommendation for a powerful board by limiting is funding and powers to investigate police wrong doing.
"The Bill completely eviscerates these proposals," he said.
The Bill also cut the powers of district policing partnerships which were supposed to involve local councils. Sinn Fein has expressed great concern that the Bill will keep these partnerships dependent on the Government for funding.
And the Bill ignores the wider policing aspects covered by the Patten report, abandoning the "core project" of the Patten report to improve security in the widersense.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson reacted by defending the Bill, saying: "I fundamentally disagree with his [Shearing's] analysis. Everyone has to live in the real world and that includes former members of the Patten commission."
Sinn Fein spokesperson Gerry Kelly supported Shearing's views: "It underlines exactly a Sinn Fein has been saying for a number of months. It shows the lie Peter Mandelson has been purveying - that the Patten report has been implemented fully and faithfully."
As we go to press the Bill -- weak as it is -- faces strong opposition from Tory and Ulster Unionist peers who will try to postpone or wreck the Bill altogether.
Meanwhile the inquiry into he Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972 has resumed with dramatic reports of the paratroopers who took part in the killings tortured and murdered a man and dumped his body in a loyalist area of Belfast.
The accusation was made by a former paratrooper, known as 027. In a written statement forwarded to the inquiry, he described an operation in the nationalist Divis flats in which two soldiers "ran a man bent double into the plating of a pig [armoured personnel carrier].
"He was knocked out but then revived and was thrown into the back of the pig where he was electrocuted in some way, castrated, sliced in the face with a knife and generally kicked and beaten." The statement goes on to say the victim's body was "taken to the Shankhill and dumped to await his fate."
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by Caroline Colebrook
STOBHILL Hospital, Glasgow, has been hit by an outbreak of the infection known as Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), which is resistant to antibiotics, in spite of a warning given by the health workers' union Unison that this could happen if the cleaning budget was cut.
Seven gynaecology patients have contracted the infection and the ward has been closed. Patients referred to the hospital are being admitted to other wards.
The North Glasgow Hospitals Trust says that none of the seven women is in serious danger -- MRSA is usually only fatal to elderly or weak victims -- but the infection could cause abscesses and delay healing.
The Stobhill Hospital is far from unique. MRSA costs the NHS millions every year by delaying patients being fit for discharge -- apart from the discomfort and misery caused to the sufferers.
Unison warned last August when the trust made cuts to its portering and cleaning services budget that hygiene standards would fall and called for the cleaning contract to be brought back in-house.
The trust ignored this warning and extended the contract of Bateman Healthcare for another year.
Unison branch secretary Carolyn Leckie said: "There is an ongoing problem with this company. They have had an extension of their contract for a year.
"We have been campaigning for the contract to be brought back in-house but the trust hadn't been monitoring the contract, so it couldn't get rid of them.
"We believe the hospital is a lot dirtier. There has been a reduction in cleaning standards. There is still a dispute over what constitutes a non-clinical area. Nursing duty rooms were deemed to be non-clinical but nurses are coming in and out of them all the time, possibly taking germs with them.
"They are used by clinical people. There is also a dispute over whether or not the company is responsible for scrubbing corridors. We used to scrub them once a month but we don't do it at all now.
"It is no surprise. The staff have been halved since Bateman took over. More and more work is being put on to people. They change work practices on a day-to-day basis to get things covered. They just can't do it. It is physically impossible to keep the place clean.
"We have asked Bateman to tell us their staffing establishment but they won't tell us. We are suspicious that staffing levels have been reduced significantly. The trust cannot be absolved of blame. They are trying to reduce costs because they have a deficit."
The Scottish health organiser for Unison, Jim Devine, said: "We are approaching the trust te express our concerns about the private company that provider the cleaning in this hospital. "There has not been the standard of monitoring or follow-up that we would like to see. Our members working there have expressed concern about staffing levels and the provision of cleaning materials.
"We don't believe it is coincidence that privatisation and staff reductions have been followed by an increase in MRSA.
"We have had reports of staff bringing in their own cleaning equipment because of shortages, of uniforms not being replaced. The reports we have had about the company have been a matter of concern."
Earlier this year the Auditor General for Scotland, Robert Black, revealed that cleaning hospitals costs the NHS in Scotland about £54 million a year but treating patients for infections picked up in hospitals costs double that.
He admitted that in practice minmum standards for frequency of cleaning have been reduced because the work was being done by outside contractors and the hospital mangements did not know how often cleaning was carried out.
* London hospitals are on the verge of an emergency beds crisis according to figures released last week. Mote than 80 patients had to be ferried from one hospital to another last month for specialist care. The Emergency Beds Service dealth with 141 enquiries.
Geoff Martin, speaking on behalf of the pressure group London Health Emergency, said: "If we have difficulty in October on the edge of the busy winter period, it demonstrates that there are still massive gaps in the service in London.
"The bottom line is, if there is severe pressure on the service during the winter, these gaps will show. It shows there is no coherent approach to tackling these problems."
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by Our Middle East correspondent
FIGHTING continues throughout occupied Palestine despite continuing diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire. Israeli troops are now blockading all the towns and villages in the "autonomous" areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, allowing only food and medicine to enter.
The Israeli army is threatening to escalate the violence while their government bleats on about "peace" to the outside world.
Four Palestinian youths were shot dead last Tuesday by Israeli troops pushing the death toll since the uprising began to 231 nearly all Palestinian Arabs -- 194 from the occupied territories and 13 "Israeli" Arabs. But 24 Israeli soldiers and settlers have also been killed as the resistance grows. Four were killed on Tuesday in drive-by shootings by guerrilla units.
On the diplomatic front the Americans are still trying to organise a three-way summit with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Israeli premier Ehud Barak and outgoing US President Bill Clinton. But, as usual, Clinton has nothing to offer the Arabs except the usual platitudes about "peace" which in the past have meant just accepting everything Tel Aviv wants.
Arafat is now busy trying to mend his fences with the Islamic resistance. Some Hamas prisoners held in Palestinian jails have been freed and on the ground there is growing co-operation between Arafat's own Fateh resistance movement and the Muslim militants.
This week Arafat held talks with a senior Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, while both were at the Islamic summit in Qatar. This was the first meeting between the two leaders for five years and it reflects the growing grass-roots demand for a united front to confront the Israeli occupation head on.
Inside Israel Barak's Labour led coalition is coming under increasing pressure from the peace movement and its own left-wing to stop kow-towing to the Zionist fanatics and the settler lobby.
Yossi Sarid, leader of the left social-democratic Mereti Party made this clear to Zionist settlers from the Gaza Strip who had come to the Israeli parliament to call for extra protection.
He said "We think the settlement programme is the most foolish thing ever carried out by the Zionist enterprise. The settlements that are currently in the eye of the storm endanger, first and foremost their own residents but also endanger soldiers. We think that these settlements, despite the discomfort, need to be uprooted immediately".
* Over 7,000 South African Muslims have volunteered to join the Palestinian resistance following a call in Cape Town from the Union of Islamic Organisations.
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by Renee Sams
YOUNG people at a London conference last Saturday expressed their anger at he racist attitudes they continually find in this society. They had hoped the McPherson report after the inquiry in the death of Stephen Lawrence would be a landmark and hat surely changes would be on the way but they have been very disappointed.
Milena Buyun from the National Black Alliance said: "The Lawrence inquiry is the only positive thing this Government has done on racism. It is now two years on and not one thing has been implemented. We have not seen any visible change."
The conference Milena was addressing was part of the newly established "Speak Out Against Racism -- Defend Asylum-Seekers" campaign, a broad coalition involving refugee organisations, churches, trade unions and anti-racists.
It was one of a series of events planned in the run-up to the general election in May 2001 against the use of immigration and asylum-seekers as an issue to gain votes by political parties.
On Saturday 4 November they had organised the successful "Hands Around the Home Office" protest which was attended by over 500 people.
"The Lawrence inquiry forced back the boundaries of the law," Milena continued, "but things are still happening. Since then there have been many more racist attacks and black people killed in prison. Police still stop and search four or five times as many black people as white an the racist attitude of the police is still just the same."
She said she "could hardly contain" her anger when new London police chief John Stephens commented on the compensation granted to the Lawrence family for the way in which the police had let them down. He had said: "The Met is not an insurance company".
Milena said that just changing one police chief for another is not enough. "There needs to be far reaching changes in the attitudes of police officers and Government must take responsibility in combating institutional racism.
"No amount of money can compensate for the suffering of bereaved parents Neville and Doreen Lawrence." That suffering was made a thousand times worse by police racism and incompetence. "If only they had done their job properly, the murderers of Stephen would have been charged."
Also on the platform was Delroy Lindo who has suffered endless police harassment. This started when he began to campaign on behalf of Winston Silcott who was framed for the murder of PC Blakelock in the 1980s during the Broadwater Farm incident.
It was not long before Delroy was arrested and police made great efforts to frame him to stop the campaign. Over the years he has been arrested many times, stopped and searched, victimised and picked up. He was even followed and harassed while taking his daughter to school.
"Police have been waging an all-out war against our family," Delroy explained. "It is never ending. In 1966 we decided to take action against the police and in a few weeks time a report will be finished. There were 18 charges against he police and we have won all of them."
Fazil Kawani from the Refugee Council spoke of the important role of young people in the fight against racism which affects us all. He was particularly incensed about the voucher system that asylum-seekers have to endure and "the way the media have tried to change the public perception of asylum-seekers"
"They do not come here," he said, "for vouchers or money. They come because they need help and protection. People do no leave their friends, relations, their culture for nothing. They come because they are victimised and threatened, sometimes frightened for their lives.
"It is important for those in the majority to find out how the minorities feel, fleeing from persecution. They need protection from violations of human rights."
Dr Richard Stone from the Jewish Council for Racial Equality and a member of the Lawrence inquiry team recalled that the Prime Minister had admitted that there is institutional racism in this country. "And," he added, "we should make use of this statement.
"The term 'institutional racism' is often taken personally by people in government and in the police. They cannot see the problems caused by long traditions of racist thinking in this country that go back to the days of colonialism.
"The police blamed the inquiry for causing low morale in the police force, making it difficult for them to carry out heir duties.
"This problem could be solved quite easily," said Dr Stone, "One of the recommendations ofthe McPherson report is that a written reason be given. All that is needed is for the officer to say why he stopped any particular person. At present they do no have to give any reason and they do not even have to record it as a 'stop and search'."
He recognised the crucial importance of young people being involved in the anti-racist struggle and advised them "to harness their anger and focus it on an anti-racist campaign."
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