The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 10th January 1997
Editorial - Hidden Depths
Lead Story - Striking workers denand end to anti-union laws. South Korean workers build nationwide opposition.
Feature - Two million children malnourished in Britain.
International - Hebron deal finally signed.
British News - Beds crisis leaves hospitals at breaking point.
THE nearer we get to the general election the more the government will claim It is solving the country's economic problems. One of the things it will hope to take credit for is cutting unemployment.
The official government figures, based on the number of people receiving the Job Seekers' Allowance (JSA), puts the number of unemployed people in Britain today at 1.92 million.
The Tory government will be delighted to boast that the level of unemployment has (apparently) fallen below the two million mark
But of course we have all known for a long time that the official figures, though no doubt accurate within their limited terms of reference, show just a part of the picture.
These government figures only count the number of JSA claimants -- which is not at all the same thing as counting all the people who are without jobs and who want to work.
There are many women, for example, who want to work but are discouraged by lack of affordable childcare facilities and don't sign on. Jobless teenagers under 18 years of age are not counted because, thanks to Tory policies, they no longer qualify for benefit. Also, the official government figures ignore those in government work-related training programmes even though they cannot be described as having an actual job.
The picture has been even more distorted since the introduction of the JSA which has very stringent conditions that not everyone wanting work can fulfil, and which in any case cuts off the benefit after six months. After six months JSA claimants will have to apply for the means tested Income Support benefit.
Since 1979, successive Tory governments have made no less than 32 changes to the rules concerning benefits and the effect of these changes has been to narrow down the register of unemployed in such a way that more and more Jobless people become invisible to the statistics.
Not even official figures agree. Another body, the Labour Force Survey (LFS), has come up with a current unemployment figure of 2.26 million -- its findings include the results of household surveys and takes account of people who want to work regardless of whether or not they have qualified for the JSA.
And the widely respected Unemployment Unit, which is independent of the government, calculates that "Britain needs 5.4 million jqbs" _ well over double the number the government maintains.
But we hardly need statistics to tell us that unemployment is appallingly high and widespread.
Those still in work and consumers of services and utilities meet the problems caused by understaffing all the time.
Workers know this because their workload has increased, bringing stress and longer hours. Consumers know that the services they receive are not what they were.
The so-called "down-sizing" and "restructuring" that has taken place over recent years has raised the level of exploitation on workers and the existence ofa vast reserve army of labour -- the millions out of work -- creates a climate of fear in the workplace that the bosses can take full advantage of.
Many social problems, largely arising from unemployment and the fearofit, are used as a pretext for introducing harsher laws and fuel the drive towards authoritarianism and creeping fascism.
What is obviously needed is jobs. More jobs would not only tackle the underlying causes of problems such as juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour but would also directly lmprove the environment and make public places safer.
It's no surprise that unstaffed railway stations quickly get covered with graffiti or that housing estates are less troubled when they are adequately staffed with caretakers.
We used to have park keepers, staffed recreation grounds and local authority-run youth clubs.
Now these workers are deemed unnecessary and the resulting problems are left to the police and courts.
Capitalism creates unemployment -- it is a characteristic of the system and there will not be full employment under that system. Only a socialist society can provide jobs for all.
But that does not mean that nothing can be done now or that there are no gains to be won.
To defend our interests against job insecurity and intensifying exploitation we need the strength of our trade unions. We need to fight back as the Glacier workers did in Glasgow. And we need to get rid of the Tories for good.
Unemployment is a problem in all capitalist countries. But everywhere in the world working class people are in struggle and are fighting back.
We salute the courageous struggle of the workers in south Korea who are refusing job cuts and anti-union measures - their spirit of resistance gives heart to workers throughout the capitalist world.
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JOINT nationwide strike action by both the Korean Confederation of Trades Unions (KCTU) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) on 14 and 15January marked a significant increase in pressure on the South Korean government to reverse an extention of anti-trade union labour laws.
President Kim Young Sam quietly wheeled his new anti-union bomb through a National Assembly bereft of political opposition to the President's New Korea Party on 26 December last year. But if he thought he'd caught the people off guard, he was very quickly to witness growing nationwide opposition to the regime's measures.
South Korean workers are concemed about job scurity. It is no secret that the ruling regime wants to open the way for industry to cut labour costs -- creating unemployment -- in a bid to become more competitive.
Over 2,000 tradeunionists have been imprisoned under the existing dictatorial labour and national security laws, and now the people have got the bit between their teeth with this latest crudely effected move.
Over 200 leaders of the KCTU including president Kwon Young-Kil, following summenses and threats of arrest set up camp in the grounds of Myongdong Cathedral which puts them out of reach for the time being.
Strikes and demonstrations organised by the country's biggest industrial and public sector unions are galvanising an across-the-board battle which has kept hundreds of thousands on the streets throughout south Korea over the last 2-3 weeks. As a result, the Seoul regime is now contending with seriously shaken business interests.
But it is also on the sharp end of growing criticism from Bussels based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the United Nations Intemational Labour Organisation (ILO).
South Korea's labour laws are already recognised as violating international conventions, but the latest attack extends the attempts to destroy trade unionisrn, undermine workers rights, security and conditions.
The new law will:
Grant bosses new powers to replace workers on strike by transfening workers and subcontracting during a strike;
deny the right of dismissed workers to become members of a trade union;
make it illegal for strikers to receive pay in the course of strike action;
gradually illegalise full-time union officials' receipt of company pay;
prevent workers from occupying workplaces during a strike.
Workers demanded the scraping of this new law by Tuesday night or else. At least 40,000 marched through Seoul on Tuesday and as we go to press subway workers in Seoul and Pusan joined the strike. Bus drivers and taxi drivers,port, telecommunications and finance unions have come out.
Solidarity action has been underway in several European countries and elsewhere. Democratic Korea's KCNA news agency reported that workers in Pyongyang met to discuss the crisis in the south and urged the south's workers to stand firm in a "nationwide patriotic resistance".
TUC general secretary John Monks led a delegation of trade unionists to deliver a protest to the south Korean ambassador.
Picket of the South Korean embassy in London called by the Society for Friendship with Korea: 1-2pm. Saturday 18th January.
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AS MANY as two million children in Britain are suffering poor health and stunted growth because of an inadequate diet, according to a report, Hunger Within, published by the School Milk Campaign last Tuesday.
It says that poverty on a scale not seen since the 30s is responsible for the return of diseases such as rickets, anaemia and tuberculosis.
The report also found that children from deprived homes were, on average, eight pounds lighter and one-and-a-half inches shorter than their same-age counterparts from better off homes.
The campaign surveyed 179 local authorities and 36 health authorities and found evidence throughout Britain of children who are underweight and below average height.
It also found that tuberculosis is now more common than whooping cough. In some inner city pockets of deprivation, the survey found widespread anaemia. This is caused by lack of iron in the diet and affects both mental and physical development.
There are: also pockets of rickets, a condition arising from the lack of vitamin D which leads to deformed leg bones.
And some children from hardup families living in comparatively well-off areas are suffering. In Richmond-upon-Thames, 50 cases of child malnutrition were found.
Figures from the Health Visitors Association back up the findings of the report. The HVA said its members had come across about 615 cases of rickets in the last year and nearly a third had patients with TB.
The Campaign for School Milk says that government cuts to free and cheap school meals and the withdrawal of school milk are to blame for this situation, saying these were the chief sources of nutritious food for many poor children.
The co-founder of the campaign, Stephanie Spiers, said: "We are looking at a nutritional disaster"
And it says that the introduction of "luncheon meal sandwiches. a carton of squash, biscuit and satsuma" to replace free hot meals is inadequate and socially divisive.
The report points to the future health problems that children may develop in later life as a result of poor nutrition now, for example brittle bones.
"Children born healthy are being put at risk of a lifetime of disability by poor nutrition," the report says. "These cuts have destroyed what was once the world's best preventive healthcare programme."
The report cited the ill-health and malnutrition which led to the rejection of many recruits during the First World War.
This led to the introduction of school meals and later school milk.
And the report says that last year the Army rejected 40 per cent of applicants as physically or medically unfit.
The report shows that benefit levels, which leave families with just over £23 a week for food are far too low.
But lack of money is not the only problem facing hard-up families. The increase in out-of-town superstores means that people who do not have their own cars have great difficulty in getting to when food is sold cheaply and in great variety.
Poor housing, lack of cooking skills and education about nutrition also contribute to the probIem, as does marketing pressure from the manufacturers of sweets, crisps and other junk foods on children.
The campaign is calling for the restoration of free milk to all under-fives for those in families dependent on Income Support and for a screening programme in deprived areas, linked to the provision of vitamin and mineral supplements.
But this is a very minimal demand. There is plainly a need for the full restoration of free milk to all school-age children and it should not be means tested.
Children who feel they may be stigmatised as being poor by claiming milk thatis means-tested will not get it.
Also there is a need for a massive overhaul of the school dinners service to provide cheap or free nutritious hot meals midday to all growing children, whatever their background.
Compulsory competitive tendering,with its profit-making priorities, must be ended.
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ISRAEL has finally ageed I the partial withdrawal from th West Bank city of Hebron ending months of stalling and tortuous negotiations. The deal, I far as Hebron is concerned conforms to the original Oslo agreement drawn up by the old Israeli Labour government and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
Some 80 per cent of Hebron will be handed over to the Palestinian National Authority, which administers the "autonomous" zone, and 20 per cent will remain under the control of the Israeli army to protect the 400 Zionist settlers in the city. Israeli troops are expected to pull-back to their new lines within 10 days.
But first of all Israeli premier Benyamin Netanyahu has to get the deal okayed by his own cabinet and he faces a major revolt when they meet.
Seven out of 18 members of tile Netanyahu cabinet are believed to be ready to vote against the deal and the Arab-hating settler lobby is working on others to try and scupper the deal.
But the agreemenf the result of intense pressure from the United States and special pleading by King Hussein of Jordan, has been endorsed by the Labour-led opposition, guaranteeing it safe passage through the Knesset, Israel's parliament.
It marks a considerable setback for Netanyahu who won last year's election pledging to scrap the "autonomy" deal and not to budge an inch on further troop withdrawals. The fact that Washington is prepared to split the Netanyahu government to keep the "peace process" on track will not have gone unnoticed in Netanyahu' s Likud block, which claimed they would be able to maintain close links with the White House whatever they did to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has confirmed his commitment to the next stage of the Oslo accords, the redeployment of Israeli troops from the rural areas of the West Bank, though the time-table has been extended for a further year.
The next Israeli withdrawals will now not be completed until the end of 1998. The Palestinians expect Israel to handover some 90 per cent of the West Bank under the agreement. But this is already being challenged by the Netanyahu team, who claim that they are only obliged to return 30 per cent of the countryside under the final interim withdrawal.
Netanyahu's nightmare would be a Cabinet revolt which tears his coalition apart leading to new elections which Labour is well placed to win. The alternative, reliance on the Labour led opposition for support in the face of a substantial revolt from his own ranks and the settler parties whose votes Likud relies onis not much better.
Labour has been having a field day on this issue noting with satisfaction that Netanyahu has inevitably had to take the road charted by his Labour predecessors. Though this hasn't stopped them from trying to score cheap points by claiming that Netanyahu's deal is worse than the one negotiated by the Rabin government in 1995.
Few Palestinians think so and President Arafat has his work cut out to try and convince his own constituency of the wisdom of continuing along the Oslo road. The Palestinian leader can claim that he has held Netanyahu to the agreement so far, and as long as Israeli troops move in the right direction he will continue to be given the benefit of the doubt by mostPalestinians in the occupied territories.
Arafat hopes that Labour will win the next election and whatever he gets from Netanyahu is a bonus. But he knows that he faces great problems if and when the final stage negotiations take place. Labour and Likud and both commitment to retaining what they call "Greater Jerusalem" whatever the outcome. This indudes Arab east Jerusalem and much of the surrounding Arab countryside. Both Israeli blocs want to retain the Jordan Valley, though Labour is prepared to dismantle some but not all of the Zionist settlements.
So the "peace process" moves on -- until the next crisis.
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BRITISH Medical Association (BMA) chairperson Dr Sandy Macara criticised the government last week for its inadequate response to the worst health service crisis for a decade.
He said the £25 million extra cash, made available to the NHS before Christmas, was "sadly not enough". It should, he said, have been eight times that amount.
The past few weeks have been horrendous for hundreds of patients and health service workers.
Right across London and the South East hospitals have been turning new patients away and the Emergency Beds Service, in one day alone, dealt with no fewer than 150 doctors' requests for help to place patients.
A Kent man suffering from heart failure was driven 50 miles to find an intensive care bed.
Because of the snow the journey took six hours and he died when he reached hospital.
One elderly woman collapsed right outside a hospital but because then: were no beds available she was taken 60 miles to another hospital where she died.
The shortage of beds affected more than 600 emergency cases -- some patients had to be taken to different hospitals, others had to wait on trolleys.
In Leeds a 35-bed women's ward was closert and all non emergency operations were postponed until March. This was to provide beds for elderly patients suffering from seasonal illnesses.
Ten patients in Bristol were woken up in the night and sent home in order to release their beds for emergency cases.
One of the rudely discharged patients told reporters: "I don't blame the doctors or the nurses; they work very hard. It is all the cutbacks that are at fault. It is ridiculous when a hospital cannot cope with more patients."
Bristol South Labour MP Dawn Primarolo promised to raise the matter with Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell. She said: "When a teaching hospital has staff rushing around the wards trying to send patients home that should not go home it is outrageous".
Three London hospitals were so stretched that patients had to wait in ambulances outside the casualty departments. The hospitals had run out of trolleys and one even ran short of blankets.
In Wales the health authorities in Dyfed and Powys are planning to shut eight out of 19 local community hospitals and four large hospitals in the south and north of the country closed their doors to all non-emergency cases. In fact most hospitals in Britain have postponed routine operations.
The government blames the severe winter weather for the problems in emergency and accident departments and the pressure on hospital beds. It points to the increase in the number of elderly patients affected by the cold weather and the many accidents caused by slippery roads and pavements.
But winter happens every year and sometimes the weather can be harsh. This should not come as a surprise or cause people to suffer and even die.
Winter may come as a surprise to the government but the crisis in the NHS does not surprise anyone. The BMA gave a warning of the dire situation last October but it was dismissed as being alarmist.
The National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts has said the NHS needs a cash injection of £150 million to £200 million simply to see our hospitals through this winter.
The Labour Party has said it will call for an emergency House of Commons statement on the situation.
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