Investors in the enterprise, Lastminute.com, are effectively gambling that this and other new internet businesses will become highly successful and rake them in huge profits. Of course they could just as easily be flops.
In the same week we heard that German car giant BMW may be preparing to sell off its Rover arm, either in part or totally. If this happens 10,000 workers could lose their jobs at Longbridge, 2,000 jobs could go at Cowley in Oxford, another 5,000 could be lost at Solihull plus many thousands of other jobs in the supporting industries.
The workers, as usual, are among the last people to know what is going on and have had no say in the decision-making at all. If the worst happens the knock-on effect will be enormous and particularly devastating for the Midlands as a whole.
The threatened disaster for Rover and the cork-popping success for Lastminute.com show that it is indeed true that capitalism throws up both multi-millionaires on the one hand and the scourge of unemployment and hardship on the other. But most significantly it shows that in relative terms only a tiny handful become millionaires while many millions get to experience job insecurity and hardship.
The two events also highlight the fact that real power -- state power -- in a capitalist country lies with the capitalist class and not with the elected government of the day. Virtually all of the economy is in private hands and this is only ever subjected to a paltry taxation system and minimal regulations such as health and safety laws (which workers have fought for) and rules largely designed to stop the rich from openly cheating each other.
Though the working class creates all the wealth in the world it has no say in a capitalist society as to where investment is made, what work is needed by the people nor how the wealth is distributed.
When wealth is expressed in terms of money it's relationship to work becomes harder to see. The capitalist class, who owes everything it has to the labour of others, is at pains to hide this fact from sight. The rich pretend they have earned their wealth -- even though they produce nothing at all and serve no one but themselves. This implies of course that the rest of us deserve all we get and should, like them, work harder.
Yet everyone knows that the thousands of car workers waiting to hear if they have a job tomorrow are worried sick. They want to work. It is not their fault that BMW might decide to throw them out of work. And it will not be the fault of workers in subsidiary industries if their jobs go down the drain as well.
The fault lies with the system itself -- a system that is anti-human and solely concerned with making ever-rising profits for a privileged few.
In this dog-eat-dog system every boss wants to pay as little as possible in wages, taxes and social benefits. This way they get to keep more. for themselves and this in turn helps them outdo their rivals. They also of course want to sell their company's goods or services to as many people as possible for as much money as possible. But of course the customers are also the same people whose wages are kept low and who have little to spend. The result is a crisis of over-production.
Some firms will then go bust because they can't sell enough goods. The workers from those firms go on the dole where they are paid even less money and can afford to buy even less. This makes the whole situation worse. Billions of people across the world suffer from this global crisis.
But the biggest capitalists can still laugh their way to the bank because they can buy up the folded companies, make themselves even bigger and call the shots in the marketplace.
Governments make feeble efforts to deal with the situation. Sometimes they try to encourage cheap credit -- getting workers to spend tomorrow's wages as well as today's. Sometimes they prop up low wages with social security benefits for low income families. None of it solves the problem or makes the crisis go away.
Capitalism has had it's day and has to go. Only a socialist society in which the working class holds the reins of power can bring these dreadful crises to an end and provide a secure and hopeful future to the world. This is the task of our time!
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AROUND 50,000 manufacturing jobs are at risk as we go to press after the German BMW car company last week announced it was reconsidering the future of Rover cars.
This comes just 16 months after a package was agreed between BMW, the British government and trade unions at the Rover plants at Longbridge and Cowley.
The Rover plants had been losing money for some time and BMW decided it must either close it down or make drastic changes.
In December 1998, a deal was worked out for BMW to invest in a complete restructuring of the Longbridge plant, helped by a £150 million support package from the Government.
BMW said it would produce the new Millennium Mini at Longbridge.
The workers had to accept 2,500 job cuts -- in addition to 1,500 that had already gone that year -- and the introduction of new working practices.
This was a bitter pill but swallowed in preference to seeing the plant closed down.
BMW also conducted a big shake up of its own board of directors with chief Bernd Pischetsrieder and his possible successor Wolfgang Reitzie both quitting in 1999.
Joachim Milberg was then appointed to lead the company and he confirmed the package and plans to build a new medium sized car at Longbridge.
The company did not give any guarantee the new package would work or would solve the crisis at the plant in the long term.
Since then, European Union red tape has held up the Government grant and Rover cars are still not selling as well as they should.
The cars have been very highly praised but they do not sell well.
The truth is that all car companies are struggling to sell in a market that is more than over supplied.
BMW bosses had promised to allow Rover until 2002 to break even. But losses for 1999 ballooned to £lOO million from £600 million the year before.
The delay in the EU decision on the government grant is causing real problems and Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers has pledged to meet European competition commissioner Mario Monti to urge a quick decision.
BMW is to discuss the future of Rover this Thursday and has promised an announcement on Friday. There is speculation it may sell Rover, the brand name and the Longbridge plant to an unknown buyer.
Speculators say this may be a British-American consortium not so far associated with big motor manufacturers.
They also say that BMW may keep the Landrover production at Cowley and the Millennium Mini and sell the rest.
Workers at the plant are dismayed at this new threat to their future -- over the past two years they have gone from one crisis to another.
Tony Woodley, speaking for the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "Selling off Rover would be unacceptable to the workforce and no doubt the Government."
Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the AEEU engineering union, accused BMW of impatience and not allowing enough time for a turn around in the profitability of Rover.
This demonstrates that no amount of worker compliance with bosses' demands can protect jobs. The capitalist system of unplanned production, that produces surpluses of commodities that no one can afford to buy is inexorable and inevitably leads to cycles of boom and bust.
Around 9,000 workers are employed at Longbridge but, indirectly a total of 50,000 jobs depend on the Rover plants at Cowley and Longbridge.
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by Caroline Colebrook
EDUCATION Secretary David Blunkett last week Faced a major setback to the government policy For improving schools in trouble when two "superhead" teachers, brought in to turn round schools that had been "named and shamed", quit within a few days of each other.
The first was Torsten Friedag, brought in on £70,000 a year to create a new school out of the "failed" George Orwell Comprehensive in Islington, north London, renamed as the Islington Arts and Media School.
Just six months after taking on the task, he has resigned.
When he Look over the publicity attracted 400 applications for 50 teaching posts and some local middle class parents decided to send their children there.
David Blunkett re-opened the school saying: "This school is committed to ensuring that the life chances of children here can match those who can buy private education or those who live in catchment areas where schools have been working well for years.
Before Mr Friedag had taken over, fewer than ten per cent of pupils achieved five GCSE at levels between A and C.
Many children were refugees or in care and they spoke a total of 25 different languages. The buildings were in a poor state.
Furthermore the school had been "named and shamed". Children and teachers were demoralised.
Mr Friedag said his fist instinct was to close the school for a year for major structural repairs but this was impractical. This meant that during the first year as a new school children and teachers had to work with scaffolding, drilling and other building work going on around them.
The new school had been promised a lot including a radio studio and support from local business, including new technology companies.
Disillusion set in quickly with high levels of violent and disruptive behaviour from pupils.
It was not long before Mr Friedag was getting the same treatment as his predecessors and local Liberal Democrat councillors were saying he had lost his grip.
Two weeks ago a troubleshooter was sent in, John Leovald, a former Acton High School head.
Then earlier this week, Caroline McAlpine announced she would quit Firfield School in Newcastle upon Tyne -- formerly known as Blakelaw -- where she had been brought in, also at £70,000 a year, to give a fresh start to the "named and shamed" school.
She began by trying to tackle high levels of truancy. She persuaded some parents to educate persistent non-attenders at home and bribed others with £80 bonuses for 15 and 16-year-olds meeting behaviour and attendance targets.
The school nearly faced a strike at the new year as teachers refused to teach some disruptive pupils.
The Newcastle Education Authority commented: "Improvements have been made to the learning environment in a very short period". But it added that urgent problems still remained, standards of numeracy were low and there was "inconsistency" in the quality of lessons and attendance.
The school's reputation remained low and it failed to attract new pupils. Extra funding depended on more pupils and that target was missed, meaning the school was doomed to lose more staff.
After 18 months, Ms McAlpine decided her prospects were better as head of an education action zone in Great Yarmouth.
These two cases illustrate plainly that the problems faced by inner city schools cannot be solved by quick fixes or superteachers.
There was probably nothing wrong with the original teachers except low pay and low morale in the face of impossible problems.
The problems go far widerand deeper. In both areas the children come from homes facing enormous economic disadvantages.
Newcastle was once an industrial area with coal-mining, ship building and so on. Now it has nothing to offer in the way of prospects for growing children.
Two decades of cuts in local government spending have seen schools throughout Britain deprived of special needs teachers who could help those disruptive pupils in small groups.
Funding for pupils who needed English as a second language was withdrawn. When pupils cannot fully understand their lessons it is not surprising they become frustrated, bored and disruptive.
A few disruptive pupils in a large class can make it impossible to teach and soon the other pupils have no incentive to behave or make an effort.
These schools need more teachers, not more cuts. They do not need the bad publicity of being labelled as failing.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said: "The reality is becoming clear that even with brilliant heads and staff, these schools do not succeed".
David Blunkett must heed the warning that the quick fix approach does not work -- this is the philosophy behind the "education action zones".
These will bring yet more disappointment and failure. Private enterprise will get involved to reap profits but run a mile when things are going badly.
These children need time, effort, more teachers, smaller classes but above all they need a socialist society that can guarantee them prospects of decent jobs and a reason to want to learn.
* David Blunkett last week reneged on the Labour promise to end selection at 11 in education and declared arguments about selection as "past agenda".
His remark followed a ballot victory by pro-selection campaigners in Ripen, Yorkshire.
* As we go to press a third "superhead" has quit. Tony Garwood, appointed principal of the East Brighton College of Media Arts to rescue pupils from indiscipline and under-achievement, has announced his resignation.
The secondary school near Roedean has long-term problems. Mr Garwood's decision to leave came after an emergency staff meeting at which teachers complained that he and the chair of governors, Frieda Warman-Brown, suppressed a letter from the local education authority expressing grave concerns about the school.
A senior teacher at the school has reported that 18 staff have quit in less than rwo terms, forcing the employment of 58 supply teachers and said: "The situation at the school is a hundred times worse than last year"
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by Our Middle East Affairs correspondent
CAMPAIGNING Labour MP George Galloway is in Jordan supervising the delivery of three tons of vital vaccines and medicines for beleaguered Iraq collected by the Mariam Appeal charity.
But he's furious at the manouevres of the British govemment which blocked attempts to get the shipment flown directly to Baghdad. The mercy flight has had to halt at the Jordanian capital of Amman and its vital cargo for the people of Iraq must now take the thousand mile desert route by lorry to Baghdad.
"I am bitter and angry because we should be in Iraq by now," George told the Arab media on Monday as he prepared for the overland trip.
"The medicine is arriving tomorrow by plane and includes expensive and sensitive medicine, such as vaccines for rabies, diptheria and typhoid," Galloway said. "It is the first time that the British government has given permission for the export of such medicine to Iraq".
The Labour MP had harsh words for the obstructions put in the way of the mercy flight by the Blair government despite earlier indications that it would receive a sympathetic response. The request was eventually referred to the Anglo-American dominated UN Sanctions Committee -- where it was predictably blocked.
The Mariam Appeal had chartered a plane to take 209 supporters, journalists, aid workers and doctors along with the medical aid directly to Baghdad. After British government objections this was scaled down to 29. Even this was too much for the Foreign Office to swallow. The government swiftly referred it to the notorious sanctions committee which imposed a virtual veto on the flight.
The sanctions committee demanded precise details on the purpose of every single person travelling on board this mercy flight -- giving Galloway just three hours to comply with the request.
As the majority of the 29 passengers left were journalists the Marian Appeal saw this "as a wrecking manoeuvre designed to ensure media exposure of the suffering in Iraq remains beyond the gaze of the general public".
George has filed a high court action requesting a judicial review of whether the government had acted lawfully in referring the request to the Sanctions Committee.
"We are confident we will win the case because it is totally illogical to allow trips to Iraq by ship or car and to ban flights there" Galloway declared.
On Friday 10 March a leading London peace activist started a death-fast in protest at the continuing blockade o fIraq. Richard Crump, a leading member of Voices in the Wilderness and Ex-Services CND said: " I don't want to die. But I am willing to risk my health and my life. A fresh millennium has dawned, with a good deal of hype, flashing lights, etc. But the wickedness continues re: Iraq, as it has done for the past ten years. Crippling sanctions continue to cause death and privation and the bombing of that country by British and American aircraft is so commonplace as to be un-newsworthy. My feeling is that we are entering a new era of barbarism".
Iraq is giving 10 million dollars-worth of crude oil to Vietnam to help the country overcome the aftermath of the tragic floods which hit the country's central provinces in November and December 1999. The aid is outside the oil-for-food programme organised by the United Nations.
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by Steve Lawton
SUSPENDING the Northern Ireland Assembly dealt a serious blow to the Irish peace process, which the British government -- following last weeks inconciusive talks -- shows no sign of rectifying. Consequently, Sinn Fein are mobilising for the struggle to regain their rights.
The destabilising Unionist tactic of insisting the IRA begin decommissioning its weapons, in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, has been bolstered by the failure of British demilitarisation of its occupation forces and apparatus to date.
Martin McGuinness MP, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, said last Monday that that puts the British government itself in breach of the Good Friday Agreement: "It is almost six years since the IRA cessation, yet we still have military bases on top of people's homes in Belfast."
On Tuesday Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams made it clear that the 22nd May deadline for decommissioning no longer exists because the voters' mandate has been made "conditional upon armed groups decommissioning their weapons, and to do so in a certain way, in certain conditions and by a certain time, have totally and absolutely confused and subverted the entire process."
Since suspension the northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson has been making a central point of decommissioning, albeit couched in terms of all paramiiitary weapons. He said at Hillsborough Castle, County Down on Monday that retaining weapons is blocking progress.
The language of "secret plans" and guns that can be pulled at any moment clearly ignores the reason why the peace process is taking place and why there is a long, deep conflict that has divided Ireland. Persisting on that line means the British government is disowning its responsibility for the past that necessitated a solution and the present of actually working it out.
Consequently, the political vacuum widens. Concerns of tension are rising again as the forthcoming Orange Parades loom, particularly Garvaghy Road and Lower Ormeau Road. Hard line unionism aims to strengthen its position at the UUP annual conference Saturday week. That prospect ought to be a deadline for the British government to consider bringing unionism in line with the Good Friday Agreement.
The British government has within it's grasp the capacity to take the heat out of unionist intransigence. Mandelson said on Monday that one "confidence building measure after another" needs to be set in train on decommissioning.
Strange that he didn't think that applied to British military occupation. Where's the confidence in crudely severed towns with demarcation walls, watchtowers and spymasts over Catholic and nationalist homes and menacing patrols, quite apart from the RUC?
In Melbourne, Australia the Irish Premier Bertie Ahern conceded that the presence of British Army forces in south Armagh is the root of "harassment and annoyance".
Addressing the Australia-Ireland Fund, he said: "It would make an immense contribution to confidence-building if the public could feel assured that every organisation was involved in the northern Ireland conflict and accepts that a return to an armed campaign is not an option."
And this, he pointed out, "includes de-scaling of military dispositions by the [British] security forces as provided in the [Good Friday Agreement." He said Republicans have "suffered greatly from coercion."
The South Armagh Farmers & Residents Committee (SAFRC) explained: "People are becoming more vocal [against] the continued military build-up and are demanding the immediate withdrawal of all the British and RUC paraphernalia."
While talks between the British and Irish governments and the key parties continues, Gerry Adams put out a call for grassroots action. Speaking last Sunday to thousands gathered on the Falls Road, West Belfast he urged them to take ownership of the struggle and to join Sinn Fein. He told them: "The Orange card was played and the British caved in."
Demonstrations were organised by the Party in the north last weekend in Randalstown, Country Antrim and Derry. In Belfast protesters converged on the huge British Divis Tower and spy centre from several locations. "There is anger within republicanism that once again we get a situation that Ireland votes and Britain vetoes," Gerry Adams said.
He warned: "What Peter Mandelson has to learn is that you people will not and cannot be taken for granted." He said this was nothing to do with decommissioning, this is "about change, the necessity for change and the resistance to change." Some wanted to stop change, other unionists to fashion it to their own design.
At one time unionists "didn't want to see Catholics about the place. Now they are prepared to see some Catholics about the place but provided that you know your place and you keep to your place." Gerry Adams said "those days are over."
Calling on Republicans to make the 1916 Rising commemoration the largest ever, he declared: "Tell those that are trying to deny us our rightful place of a free Ireland that they are not going to win."
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