The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 17th, July 1998

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Editorial - Tragedy & Big spender?
Lead Story - Brown's flawed bonanza.
Feature - Paralysed prisoner shackled in hospital bed.
International - Drumcree crisis continues.
British News - Tube safety questioned in latest strike.

Editorial

Tragedy

THE heinous murder of three little boys in the northern Ireland town of Ballymoney last week was unbearably terrible and deeply shocking. Everyone, except the Likes of the criminal scum who carried out this appalling act, is distressed and horrified by the tragedy.

 In the north of Ireland the tragedy has put the Orange marchers at Drumcree under mounting pressure from within the Protestant communities, including from members of the Orange Order itself, to abandon the stand-off and return to their homes. Many Protestants believe this should be done as a mark of respect to the slain children, to stop maldng Drumcree a focus for loyalist violence and to distance the Order from the boys' murderers.

 Hundreds have walked away and gone home. The five-star bigots remain.

 It is clear that the events of the past weeks have intensified a growing division within Orangeism between those who endorsed the Good Friday Agreement and those who either want no changes at all or who would like to turn the clock back.

 The majority of the people in the north of Ireland do not want to go backwards -- they want Peace for themselves and their children. They voted for the Agreement and they voted against the most reactionary elements of loyalism in the Assembly elections.

 It is high time that sectarian, triumphalist marches in areas where they are not wanted were banned altogether. Residents, like those in the Garvaghy Road, should never again have to spend the summer living under a state of siege and in fear of sectarian violence.

 Loyalist terror gangs who are desperately fighting to stop the implementation of those aspects of the Good Friday Agreement giving civil rights and social equality to all citizens will surely fail. Their time is past -now is the time for change!

Big spender?
 
CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown's public spending plan for the next three years will give long overdue and much needed extra cash to the health and education services as well as some increases for other departments. But the people who run those services can expect no relief from the year-uponyear squeeze on their pay packets.

 The extra money is certainly welcome. But Gordon Brown had some qualifying conditions up his sleeve as well. He pointed out that the money will only be forthcoming if there are reforms and improvements in the services provided.

 This could be a catch-22 situation since one of the biggest problems facing the public services is a serious shortage of staff. The Chancellor's plans to peg public sector pay can only make this problem worse. Hospital waiting hsts are not simply caused by a lack of money for buildings and equipment, they are also caused by a lack of nurses and other hospital workers.

 It is the same in the education service -- there is a shortage of teachers that isjust as much a hindrance to getting class sizes down as the lack of classroom space in some schools.

 There is still no move towards a policy of progressive income tax. The tax bonanza for the rich, introduced during the Thatcher years, is still the order of the day.

 Britain is one of the world's richest countries. There is enough wealth to provide all the needs of the NHS, the education service, decent pensions and benefits and social services.

 But the class of parasites who live off the labour of the working class -- the creators of all the wealth -- deem their fortunes of profit to be private property for themselves alone. Under capitalism taxation is the only way to re-distribute this wealth for the benefit of all.

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Lead Story

Brown's flawed bonanza.

by Daphne Liddle
 
CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown stunned the country last week with his apparent £56 billion spending package to be spread over the next three years.

 He has earmarked a desperately needed extra £21 billion for the National Health Service, £19 billion for education, £3.6 billion in housing investment, £1.7 billion for transport, £l.1 billion for science research and teaching, £2.5 billion to tackle pensioner poverty -- plus awards for poorer communities, the police and other public services.

 The scale of the package has sent the Tory press reeling and accusing Mr Brown of coming out in his true "Old Labour" colours -- if only!

 But when we scrutinise it all closely, it is not all quite what it seems, and it has little to do with socialism of any kind.

 There is no doubt the extra money will make' a significant difference to the NHS and to education and it is not the kind of spending policy that would have come from a Tory government.

 But there are strings attached. The money will be dished out in measured doses and will be conditional on hospitals and schools going along with the government's "modernisation" policies.

 Most of these "modernisation" plans seem to add up to different versions of "public-private partnerships" -- in other words the private sector fat cats will be allowed free access to this bowl of cream and the profit motive will have sway over policy decisions.

 The plan also includes the sale of £11 billion of government assets -- the privatisation of buildings and land that currently belong to you and me.

Public sector pay

 The people who are going to carry out these policies are going to have to help pay for them with a draconian public sector pay policy.

 The NHS and education pay review bodies will be retained but given an additional remit to take government fiscal policy into account and peg pay rises at around 2.6 per cent -- just half of what the private sector is getting currently.

 The public sector unions have responded angrily. John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union said: "You cannot build high quality public services on the shaky foundations of low quality pay and conditions.

 "The government is effectively asking low paid workers in the public sector to pay for its election pledges. This is unjust and unfair.

 "Those that can afford the least will have to pay the most in falling living standards. Those with the most in the private sector will be the least affected because their living standards will go on rising.

 "Perhaps all workers in the public sectorshould be given free eye tests over the next three years so they can closely study their shrinking pay packets."

 And Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of the giant public sector union Unison, accused the government of a "continuing grudge against public sector workers" who are "angry and demoralised that years of austerity are to be extended".

 Low pay rates are already making it very hard to recruit nurses and teachers so that both professions are on the verge of crisis. This year only 134 graduates have accepted offers to train as secondary school physics teachers, a drop of 35 per cent on last year.

 There are only 594 students accepted for maths compared to a government target of 1,696.

 Gordon Brown has allocated £l.l billion for science, for research and teaching. But if teachers' pay levels are not raised, science teaching will continue to decline.

 John Howson of Education Data Services warned of a "doomsday scenario of physics disappearing from the state school system because there are no teachers to teach it".

Pensioners

 The £2.5 billion allocated to deal with poverty among pensioners sounds fine. It will restore free eye tests for the elderly.

 But it will not restore what the pensioners' movement wanted most of all -- the link between pensions and average earnings.

 Gordon Brown intends to continue to allow the basic state pension to decline in value and to target the money in means-tested benefits on "pensioner poverty".

This is effectively what his pledge of a "minimum income guarantee" means.

 Means-tested benefits are always expensive to administer compared with universal benefits.

 And he still intends to pressure all of us into taking out extra private pensions -- makinga nice guaranteed bonanza for the finance companies and leaving us at the mercy of fickle market forces in our old age. Nothing Like "Old Labour" at all.

PFI

The NHS is to get a welcome increase in publicly funded capital expenditure from £1.12 billion this year to £1.94 billion in three years' time.

 But most of the capital expenditure for most public sector works is still expected to come through Private Finance Initiative deals.

 The NHS is expected to increase its PFI deals from £310 million this year to £690 million by the year 2001-02.

 This means that for decades to come our public sector will be paying heavy rents to the private sector for the use of schools, hospitals and so on -- and the buildings will still be in private hands at the end of the contracts.

 This extra expenditure burden will swallow up a lot of the public money Mr Brown has made available and will see these vital public assets effectively privatised in the long term.

Mental health

 There will be some vitally needed extra money for mental health patients and it will be ring-fenced.

 But local authority social service budgets will get an extra £6.5 billion over the next three years -- not enough to provide the back-up care in the community services these patients need.

State machinery

 The police force is to geta rise of five per cent in real terms every year for the next three years.

 The budgets for the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office will also be increased.

 But this will be paid for from cuts in the legal aid budget -- leaving hard up people with less access to the machinery of bourgeois justice.

 The defence spending review was leaked a fortnight ago so the plans to spend billions on two new massive aircraft carriers do not appear along with the rest of the public spending review. But we should not forget them.

 And the security services -- MI5, MI6 and GCHO -- have escaped significant cuts in spite of the end of the Cold War.

Transport

 Transport will get an extra £1.8 billion but Mr Brown has not yet revealed exactly how this will be divided between road building and investment in public transport. That is due to come out in the Transport Review next week.

 But the government is still going ahead with selling off large parts of the Tube.

 All these spending plans are conditional -- they are tied to the various govemment departments health trusts, education authorities and so on meeting the specified "efficiency" and "modernisation" targets.

 So Mr Brown has a perfect get out to renege on any of these promises if he needs to.

 They are also of course conditional on the government being able to keep them and, as former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke pointed out, the gathering economic storm in the Far East could knock them all for six.

 Under socialism five and seven-year economic plans were very successful. Under capitalism even three-year plans are very ambitious and vulnerable to global economic forces.

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Feature

Paralysed prisoner shackled in hospital bed.
 
by Caroline Colebrook
 
PRISONS minister Joyce Quin has ordered an inquiry into the shackling of a woman prisoner in hospital who was suffering from multiple sclerosis and the after effects of a stroke that had left her paralysed on her left side.

 Linda Wright, 49, is considering suing the prison service after be ing handcuffed to prison officers for a large part of her month-long stay at the Whittington Hospital and claims her treatment amounted to assault and neglect.

 Joyce Quin has said that if the inquiry shows that mistakes were made, she will not defend them but claimed that the prison service has not yet received a formal complaint and that Ms Wright sent a thank you note to some of her guards.

 Linda Wright now still walks with a stick and has been returned to Holloway prison to complete her 12-year sentence for drug offences.

 She says she was handcuffed by a yard-long chain to a prison officer and that sometimes the cuffs were locked on to her paralysed arm.

 Her solicitor, Simon Creighton, said: "It would be impossible to describe Linda as likely to escape. She is not physically mobile enough.

 "She still cannot use the stairs and has to walk with a stick. For most of her time in hospital, she was bed-ridden."

 He said he had sent a formal letter giving the prison service seven days to respond before the case was made public. They had not replied.
 He added that the thank you note was a smokescreen. Some of the guards had shown consideration for Ms Wright and had questioned the need for the handcuffs. One had been ordered to replace the shackles after unlocking Ms Wright.

 He added that she had no argument with the guards but with the orders they were acting under.

 A woman patient in the next bed said that Ms Wright was unable to walk to the lavatory and that nurses had spoken of their concern about the handcuffs.

 This patient reported: "On 6 May there was a change of officer on duty. They told Linda she would have to be handcuffed to an officer.

 "Linda became very upset and refused to be handcuffed. Some nurses were called and they also questioned the treatment of her.

 "Linda was extremely upset by this and cried for the rest of the day."
Ms Wright said: "An officer took the chain off my right arm and attached it to my left arm. My whole left side was paralysed as a result of the stroke.

 "This made me feel even worse and when I protested the officer told me not to worry as I couldn't feel my arm."

 It took 14 days before the prison governor ordered the chains to be removed.

 The prison service claims the decision to restrain Ms Wright was taken after careful consideration of her condition, hospital security, risk to the public and the possibility that she might receive outside help in escaping.

 The service claims that the situation has improved since women prisoners were forced to wear chains while in labour.

 But last month it agreed to pay £25,000 in compensation to a mother whose son was chained on his deathbed.

 Campaigners have said the Linda Wright case highlights the need for a change in the rules on shackling women prisoners.

 Paul Cavadino, speaking for the National Association for the care and Resettlement of Offenders, said the rules were tightened three years ago after some escapes by high security male prisoners.

 "Before then," he said, "women escorted outside prison for medical treatment, family funerals or child custody hearings were only handcuffed exccpdonally."

 * A judge last week reversed a magistrate's decision to jail 70 year old Betty Jack of Doncaster, Yorkshire, for non-payment of the poll tax.

 The frail grandmother suffers from Parkinson's disease and normally uses a wheelchair. In court she was hardly given time to collect her walking frame before bailiffs took her in tears to start a three-month sentence in New Hall women's prison in Wakefield.

 Mrs Jack still owes £600 ofthe notorious tax that was scrapped seven years ago. She has paid her council tax -- which replaced the poll tax -- regularly but failed to attend court hearings concerning her poll tax debt.

 A High Court judge ordered Mrs Jack's release after just six hours, pending an appeal after outrage from local campaigning groups and pressure groups for the elderly.

 Her solicitor Richard Wise described the decision to jail Ms Jacks as "obviously ridiculous" And Alison Rose of Help the Aged said: "To even think of jailing someone in her circumstances is beyond belief".
 

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International

Drumcree crisis continues.

by Steve Lawton
 
THE murder of three young Catholic boys has reinforced the tragic and brutal absurdity of those Orange Order leaders who continue to threaten the nationalist communities in northern Ireland.

 Prime Minister Tony Blair still plainly insists that there will be no march down the nationalist Garvachy Road in Portadown, but what there should be is a meaningful conclusion through negotiation.

 While it might be argued that an inconclusive end to the stand-off could keep Orange anger alive for the next season, it must be expected that the burgeoning life of the Assembly will have an impact on how parades will be conducted by next year.

 Last Saturday's "proximity talks" through government mediation between the Portadown Orange Lodge and Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition failed.

 But the position remains that the swift and overwhelming display of occupying British military prowess at Drumcree, is so far evidence of the present Labour government's resolve to ensure that the painstaking peace process is not shot down in flames.

 But the Army-RUC presence is not quite so impartial as some might suggest. Garvaghy Road, now faced with a possibly lengthy and unnecessary siege, is in a dangerous position.

 The Orange numbers of 20,000 may have dwindled significantly, but the loyalist paramilitary elements remain a menacing and unchecked presence. As residents and nationalists point out, how far would they have got if they had decided to descend on a Protestant enclave? The RUC would have fallen on them like a ton of bricks.

 Garvaghy residents are boxed in and are under a curfew. One resident who was allowed to leave the road to go to town was savaged by loyalists a week ago. The Army looked on and RUC intervened only at the last to save his life -- the residents have been fearful of attempting to go anywhere since. It means none can go to work.

So they are in constant need of basic necessities and a regular flow of supplies that they cannot get from the town itself. Many towns have organised food and medical convoys -- as many as 150 cars at a time arriving -- which, again, have been attacked by loyalists. This is while the RUC and Army force the convoy to become sitting ducks as they conduct searches and checks.

 So far a mass breakout of hatred and violence towards the Catholic and nationalist communities in the north of Ireland has not occured.

 So far 60 Catholic families have been attacked among hundreds of loyalist lawless acts and loyalists shot at three residents in north Belfast last weekend. The RUC itself has been involved in at least one attack in the Short Strand area of Belfast. All the more reason why calls to disband the RUC will grow.

 Voices of reason from US senators, including Joe Kennedy and George Mitchell, the talks chairman, to bishops and Orange Order leaders themselves, have expressed their concern that the stand-off at Drumcree should cease.

 Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: "Orangeism is out of step with the mood, out of step with the times and out of step with the imperative to talk and to make sure 1998 is the last year in which we face this crisis."

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British News

Tube safety questioned in latest strike.
 
LONDON Underground management is putting the lives of passengers at risk by using untrained staff to do safety checks during strikes according to the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union.

 The accusations were made during last Monday's 24-hour stoppage by union members which closed several stations and cut trains on three major lines to just 40 per cent of the normal traffic.

 The RMT said that a leaked letter from the Health and Safety Executive to London Underground proved that managers without the right qualifications were being drafted in to carry out safety checks normally done by the strikers.

 London Underground denied this and also tried to deny that the strike had had much of an impact.

 But the horrendous traffic jams on the North Circular road and the Limehouse Link Tunnel as commuters resorted to cars to try to get to work told another story.

 The dispute is in protest against Labour government plans to partailly privatise the Tube network, endangering the job security, pay and conditions of up to 4,000 Tube workers.

 The union was backed in its campaign against privatisation by Reclaim the Streets protesters who staged a demonstration at Bank station, climbing on to a train and unfurling a banner.

 They invaded the office of the LU chairperson and staged a "bike blockade" of Trafalgar Square.

 RMT assistant general secretary Bob Crow said the strike had had "solid support".

 He also pointed out why the issue is now urgent: "It's been portrayed that it won't happen for another 21 months.

 "But the Underground ticketing system -- that's the people that maintain the mechanisms where you put your ticket through -- and also the railway engineering workshops at Acton Town . . . are up for privatisation in the next six weeks.

 "So unless we get guarantees for them very shortly they're going to go to the private sector and basically be thrown to the wolves.

 And he explained the problems the union is having in negotiating with the management: "It seems the problem is that every time we go to London Underground,they say that their hands are tied by the government. "We haven't had much luck in getting the government to put something in the new contracts for the privateers that the individual employees will be protected.

 "Next week London Underground is holding a conference with all the privateers that are interested in buying the Underground with 15-year contracts that are going to be really legally binding on these privateers.

 "And what we're saying is that there should be something in these contracts to protect our members pay and conditions."

 The parliamentary Transport Select Committee has also questioned the privatisation of parts of the tube system.

 The maintenance of the tracks and stations is about to be contracted out on a 15-year contract.

 There is an enormous amount of work to be done and the government is saying there is no money from the public purse.

 But the committee warned that if the private sector also fails to do the work properly, the newly elected mayor of London in two years time could be left to sort out the mess.

 In any case paying the private sector for its investment may only be possible by putting up tube fares, discouraging passengers and causing greater road congestion in the capital.
 

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