The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 17th September, 1999

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Editorial - Divided we fall.
Lead Story - Treacherous partnerships.
Feature - Big Ben to Baghdad Bus sets off.
International - Moscow bombs toughen attack on Chechen rebels.
British News - Pensioners march on the TUC.


Divided we fall

 IT'S clear that the right-wing clique fluttering around Tony Blair like moths round a light bulb would like Labour's affiliated trade unions to sit silently in some darkened corner where the trendy and upwardly mobile New Labour supporters can't see or hear them. It is the case, as TUC leader John Monks remarked, that "they regard us as an embarrassing relative".

 But that is all the more reason for the trade union movement to stand up and speak out. It underlines the need for Blair & Co to be defeated along with their class collaborationist ideas.

 This leadership group of petty bourgeoise lawyers and economists with -- their mealy-mouthed talk of industrial partnerships, social partnerships, adapting for change and "no favours" is more than an embarrassment -- it represents an insult to millions of trade unionists and many Labour Party members and voters.

 Yet while Fire Brigades leader Ken Cameron's anger is justified and understandable, his call for separating the unions from the Labour Party -- voiced at Tribune's TUC fringe meeting -- is dangerously wrong. This idea, previously put forward by rightwingers, would divide and weaken the entire movement, throw away the achievements of decades of working class struggle and seriously setback the fight to defeat the Blairite leadership.

 Ken Cameron said: "Separation could benefit everyone. It would certainly free us up to say what we want without trimming our words for fear of upsetting New Labour". This is nonsense. There is no reason why the unions should trim their words or fear upsetting the Party bosses. Indeed, the more they upset them the better!

 Surely, if the trade unions were to cast themselves adrift they would become just another ginger group petitioning from the outside. They would have given away their own history and abandoned the Party they founded to the wolves.

 Also such a policy of just walking out of the door would force a separation between the many Labour Party members who are continuing to fight for the best interests of the working class and their allies in the trade unions. The result would be an even weaker left and an ineffective movement.

 Because the working class so greatly outnumbers the exploiting capitalist class it has always been a conscious and important part of ruling class strategy to promote divisions among working people.

 This strategy includes the fostering of racism, regionalism, nationalism and sexism. Divisions within the organised working class and the labour movement are, to the capitalist class, the equivalent of winning a jackpot.

 There is nothing that would serve the bosses better than a TUC with no political links, a Labour Party with no organisational link to the unions, lots of little left parties standing on their "socialist purity" tickets in erections and syphoning off votes from Labour and the Labour left abandoned and increasingly despairing.

 Down this road the likes of Blair get a free ride. He would be only too delighted to see trade unionists and the left of his party going off into the night alone. They would no doubt continue to protest but it would no longer be a protest on the inside made by people who can speak from his rostrum and vote at his party's conference.

 The right may then decide to do the very thing the left failed to do -- to consolidate its strength by building alliances. Closer ties with the Lib-Dems or nationalist parties could follow.

 It is vital that the link between the unions and Labour Party is defended vigorously. It is vital to defend the integrity and unity of the labour movement which should be the organisational bedrock of working class struggle.

 The fight to defeat Blair and the currently dominant right wing must be undertaken by first realising the need to keep the movement intact -- it is after an our movement.

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Lead Story

Treacherous partnerships

By Daphne Liddle

THE TUC conference in Brighten this week produced none of the big clashes expected. Behind the scenes compromises beforehand produced a mostly bland public front.

 But there were divisions and differences there for those ready to read between the lines and listen to the spaces between words for what was not said.

 The mood was buoyant as after a gap of two decades, some legislation has been passed giving some workers a little protection: against long hours, against rock bottom wages and against bosses' refusal to recognise unions.

 But there was very little mention of the long way we have to go before Britain even reaches United Nations human rights agreements on trade union freedoms.

 The conference began with a rapturous welcome for the sacked Skychefs workers, dismissed for a one-day strike protest against imposed changes to terms and conditions.

 John Monks called for a boycott of the Skychefs parent company, Lufthansa.

 The divisions over Britain's entry into the European Single Currency had been papered over by changes to the wording of the relevant composite resolution, leaving it "flexible" and mostly meaningless.

 A dispute between unions over a single-union sweetheart deal at the Western Mail newspaper group in Cardiff had been defused.

 The company had some time ago derecognised the National Union of Journalists and the print union GPMU, though many members of both unions continued to work there.

 But with the new union recognition legislation in sight, the company had signed a single union, sweetheart deal with the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union that ruled out strikes.

 Not surprisingly the NUJ and GPMU were outraged and the row looked set to spill out on to the conference floor.

 But TUC general secretary John Monks persuaded the AEEU to back down and a new tripartite agreement has been signed, in which each of the three unions agrees to represent "employees traditional to it".

 The AEEU will now have to tell Western Mail bosses it cannot represent journalistic or print staff.

 Nevertheless the relationships between unions and structural changes to the TUC itself dominated the first morning of discussion last Monday.

TUC structure

 John Monks kicked off by declaring that trade union membership is now increasing for the first time in two decades. And he said the TUC, through its new organising academy which trains young cadres in recruitment hopes to gain another million members within the next five

This has to be good news. As the old Chartist Ernest Jones said, the most important message for all workers is "Organise! Organise! Organise!" That is the only way the strength of the working class can be exerted.

 Less promising was composite one which concerned a review to change the whole structure of the TUC, to "modernise" it and even change the name, perhaps to "Unions United" to make it "relevant" to 21st century conditions.

 Speaking for the National Union of Mineworkers, Arthur Scargill pointed out that changing the name is no good. "We need the power to deliver in order to attract new recruits".

 Apart from Scargill, speaker after speaker said the "bad old days" of the 1970s "confrontational trade unionism" with frequent strikes were now a thing of the past. Many were too young to have clear memories of the 70s.

 They implied that trade unionists are now more grown up when the truth is that in the 1970s, the working class was in a stronger position to win a better standard of living through industrial action. The main reason there are few strikes now is because they are all but illegal.


 Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers was given a very cool recepion after he had added last minute amendments to the legislation implementing the European working time directive.

 Already thousands of workers in real need of its protection had been excluded. But the amendments added by Byers as the legislation was passed by Parliament just before its summer recess, would have put hundreds of thousands of white collar workers beyond its protection.

 Those vulnerable would include all those who are salaried and whose hours are not measured exactly. They are given a workload and expected to complete it, however long it takes.

 If this means working long long hours, they are deemed to have done this voluntarily. Not to complete the workload is a sign of incompetence and leads to job insecurity.

 On Tuesday Mr Byers told the TUC he did not after all intend to exclude these white collar workers from the long hours protection.

 But he failed to convince and the TUC still intends to take the matter to the European Commission.

 He also called for ever more "flexibility" in working practices -- to suit the bosses of course.


 The debate on partnerships -- with employers -- and what they mean, dominated the Tuesday morning agenda.

 The TUC has produced a sixpoint guideline to try to prove that partnerships are not simple class collaboration and subservience.

 One delegate had described them as "Asking 'What do you want boss?' and calling it a partnership.

 Speaker after speaker claimed that what was good for industry, for their company must also be good for the workers and called for the ending of "out-dated them-and-us attitudes".

 This view reveals the widespread ignorance of the nature of capitalism and of the evidence in workplaces throughout the world.

 Only Mark Gray from the television workers' union Bectu reminded the conference that there is still an irreconcilable opposition between the interests of bosses and workers.

 "Otherwise, why are so many employers calling in union busters from the United States to advise them?" he asked.

 Outside the conference hall, other trade unionists who have been in the front line ofthe class struggle gave their views on partnerships.

 Malkiat Bilku, shop steward for the sacked Hillingdon Hospital cleaners, said: "What happened to us is proof that the opposite is true. We have been on strike now for almost four years.

 "We went on strike because our bosses, Pall Mall, kept on lowering our wages and conditions and in the end we had just had enough.

 "Where is the partnership in that?

 "The decision to reduce our working conditions was pro-business, pure and simple. We took our case to an industrial tribunal and won, and then Granada (the company that tookover from Pall Mall) appealed.

 "They lost the appeal but we still haven't got our jobs back. The law in this country is not on the side of ordinary working people."

 And Geoff Martin, the London convener of Unison, said: "It's all this partnership stuff again which ignores the basic age-old conflict between capital and labour.

 "These conflicts don't just get resolved because Blair thinks it would be a nice idea for us all to get along.

 "If the Tolpuddle Martyrs had forged a partnership with the Dorset landowners in 1798, then there would be no TUC Congress for Tony Blair to address.

 "What the PM wants is employees and unions which are house-trained. When Blair uses the word "partnership" it is code for worker's subservience."

 Comedian Rob Newman pointed out: "The idea that there's no conflict is disproved by bosses themselves, with the recent heading in Business Week: Thanks and goodbye: record profits as jobs are cut.

 "Our interests are irreconcilable with big business, and our world is governed by rules made for global corporations. It's sinister."

 The views of the leaderships of many of the giant unions on partnerships reveals how out of touch they are with the experiences of the young, low paid workers in poor quality jobs who most need the protection of the trade unions.

 The hostility to trade unionism in many small and medium-sized companies, where health and safety legislation is routinely flouted with impunity, seems beyond their understanding.

 It is in these places, which make up the majority of new jobs which the unemployed are being forced into, where the old fashioned reality of the conflict of class interests is most evident.


On the Tuesday afternoon Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed the conference. His tone was the warmest it has ever been to trade unions -- which is not saying much.

 But his strident bullying of the last two years had made way for a patronising tone.

 He called on the unions to join him as "champions of change" to create a modern economy.

 He repeated that he would grant no favours to the trade unions and that they must allow him to run the country while they ran the unions.

 Many trade unionists had come prepared to attack the government's record on welfare and the growing gap between rich and poor.

 But Tony Blair was still basking in the aftermath of the announcement of the working family tax credit scheme which will come into operation next month.

 This sounds very generous but is in effect a way of getting better off workers, through their taxes, to subsidise the wages of the low paid.

 It is a redistribution of wealth from one lot of workers to another and will allow bosses huge savings on their wages bills. The filthy rich remain untouched by serious taxes.


 Blair came under heavy attack from the train drivers union  Aslef general secretary Mick Rix said that Blair had kept a "war chest to finance the bombing of Kosovo" but ignored the plight of pensioners.

 He reminded conference that most pensioners had endured Nazi bombing and had helped to win the war against Nazism. Now the government is ignoring them "in the same disgraceful fashion" as the Tory government".


 On Wednesday the TUC renewed its opposition to the Private Finance Initiative and other forms of privatisation. There was a strong motion, composite 23, and a weak TUC statement which more or less said that PFI will go ahead anyway, whatever we say, so all we can do is try to get the best deal for workers affected by

 John Monks claimed the TUC has insisted that the transfer of undertakings regulations (tupe) which are supposed to safeguard the pay and conditions of those whose jobs are privatised, will apply in all cases of PFI.

 The arguments that PFI is a form of privatisation that lays up enormous debts for future generations, that it makes no economic sense and will lead to worsening public services were accepted from previous years and not repeated.

 The resolution was moved by Dave Prentis from Unison who called for a massive increase in public investment to create jobs and services to be proud of.

 Other proposed privatisations were also discussed: the Post Office, the London Underground and the air traffic control system.

 Congress was squarely opposed to all of them and there was little controversy on this. Most of the speakers were able to quote current Labour ministers from the days when they were in opposition and opposed to privatisations.

 David MacDonald of the Association of Magisterial Officers called for a rejection of the TUC statement because of its weakness and defeatism but it was endorsed anyway.

The right to strike

 Fire Brigades Union president Mick Harper called for solidarity from other unions in their looming dispute to protect their wages and conditions bargaining structure.

 The union is considering balloting for a national strike if their is no other way to defend national bargaining. The government has responded by hinting that it may ban the right to strike in essential services.

 This would take the anti-union laws further even than the Tories dared.

 Mick Harper said: "We already have more than enough restrictions. We cannot allow any more restriction into our civil liberties."

 This government proposal strikes a sinister note.

 Labour is now acting the part of a benevolent dictator over the working class with pocket money for low-paid parents, a bucket of coal for granny in winter, early bedtimes for children but harsh penalties for those who step out side the guidelines.

 It hopes to lull the masses into a false sense of security while are rights to take collective action in our own interests are still being eroded.

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Big Ben to Baghdad Bus sets off

by Renee Sams

A BIG RED London bus is now on its way to Baghdad carrying cancer medicines, diagnostic equipment and up to date medical information,
 On the bus are nine people, led by MP George Galloway undertaking a 10,000-kilometre trip to protest against the sanctions imposed upon the people of Iraq.

 The old London Routemaster will be passing through Paris,
Madrid then south to north Africa, to Rabat, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Bengahzi, Alexandria, Cairo, Amman and finishing its arduous journey in Baghdad on 5 November.

 The Big Ben to Baghdad Bus, named after Mariam Hamza, began its longjourney from Speakers' Corner at Hyde Park as George Galloway reminded the crowd -- who had gathered to wish the campaign well -- that: "This is the site from which people from all over the world have appealed for justice".

 Mariam Hamza is the four year-old leukaemia patient brought to this country in 1998 for treatment which is unobtainable in Iraq.

 There is no doubt that her presence brought the terrific suffering caused by the sanctions imposed by western imperialism to the notice of the public.

 George Galloway said that he would be going to visit Mariam. He said he just hoped "she will be alive "when we reach Baghdad".

 All the other children who had been in the same Baghdad ward with Mariam are now dead, he added sadly.

 The number of diagnosed caneer cases in Iraq has now risen to epidemic proportions, a seven to ten-fold increase and there has been a tripling of the number of children born with deformities, after their home land was bombed with depleted uranium weapons.

 Playwright Harold Pinter had no hesitation in referring to the disasters as "undoubtedly genocide".

 "Our barbaric foreign policy," he said, "is killing thousands of children every month."

 It was noted that motions to the executive committee of the Labour Party were ignored and that the government, despite many protests, has refused to allow a vote in Parliament on this policy.

 Tony Blair's "moral crusade" also came under attack. Harry Cohen MP spoke of the "300,000 excess deaths being caused by the sanctions. The death race in Iraq "is now the highest in the world".

 He condemned: "The hypocrisy of the Prime Minister's concern for children and the family is shown only too clearly by the government's sanctions policy which, far from getting rid of Saddam Hussein as ministers constantly proclaim, is actually helping him to stay in power."

 Harry Cohen revealed that he has been working to obtain the minutes of the 661 Committee which is the body in the Foreign Office which decides what is or is not allowed to he exported to Iraq.

 But, he said, his way was blocked at every turn. Even elected metnbers of Parliament are not allowed to see its agenda or its minutes or question some of its very strange definitions.

 Apparently the committee does not consider that insulin is a medicine "because it does not cure anything", and "rice is not a food because it has to be prepared".

 All this is being done in our name and it is time that called for an end to this suffering. The Big Ben to Baghdad Bus can be followed on its website. The address is: .

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Moscow bombs toughen attack on Chechen rebels

By Steve Lawton

 NOT since the Second World War has Moscow been targeted with such devastating results: Three bomb explosions in the capital and one in Daghestan within days of each other, have left over 250 dead and hundreds more injured.

 A string of bombings have now occurred: On 31 August a woman was killed and forty injured when a Moscow shopping mall arcade bomb went off. Then, during the weekend of 4-5 September, a blast wiped out a block in Dagestan in which the families of the Russian military lived. At least 64 died.

 Again in Moscow on 8 September a Moscow riverside block of flats was obliterated and over 93 died. But the worst attack came last Monday with a repeat nightmare that caused the loss of life of nearly all asleep in the block -- 118 confirmed by last Tuesday.

 Russian President Boris Yeltsin has declared war on terrorism, and called for action beyond the police and special agencies to "consolidate power" as a unified government, parliament and Yeltsin leadership "coordinated machine". Some are pressing to go beyond this to get a state of emergency declared.

 In the process the finger has been pointed at separatist Islamic rebels crossing to Daghestan from Chechenia in the north Caucasus. The bloody 1994-6 Russia-Chechenia war of secession resulted in a shaky ceasefire.

 The insurgents aim to break Russia's grip on the extremely poor yet oil-rich region that threatens to plunge both Chechenia and Daghestan into a devastating conflict. Unsurprisingly, the Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev has denied any involvement in the bomb attacks.

 Deaths on both sides are mounting as Russian troops battle the rebels, who are dodging Russian artillery and helicopter gunship attacks along the Chechenia-Daghestan border.

 Russian military attacks were expected to escalate, and with the latest bomb blast the current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested the Chechenia-Russia border may be reinforced. He regards Chechenia as a major centre of terrorist operations.

 All of this has occurred as a number of circumstances intensify: Firstly, the December elections loom with talk of postponement and a growing political crisis of the Yeltsin succession.

 Secondly, that crisis -- five prime ministers in less than two years now -- is creating domestic paralysis and demoralisation. There is resistance and a fightback, but it is fragmented and sporadic. The social infrastructure, in such circumstances, lurches from crisis to disintegration.

 Thirdly, top level financial corruption is almost routine, but both electioneering in Russia and in the United States -- with Bill Clinton's vice -president Al Gore under attack by Republicans for alleged cover-up of Russian corruption, suggests an added importance in the crisis.

 And it is not so much a clean up of Russia's uncleanable rotten stable that is at issue, as a focus on the means to secure a "reliable" successor friendly to Western capital and accepting of its strategic Nato expansion. Containment has been creeping back into the vocabulary again.

 The US is also accused of using the crisis to wrest nuclear arms concessions from Russia which has a below par but sufficiently active nuclear capability. Talks have, for several years, remained inconclusive due to a persistent concern that the US is re-arming.

 The military made their point when they launched a new model Topol-M intercontinental missile hitting a target "to a high degree of accuracy", rocket team head General Yakovlev said.

 Since the Soviet Union succumbed to counter-revolution and imperialist-backed economic subversion, forces of reaction have struck deep into Russia's heartland -- and not just with bombs -- and shorn off the former Soviet Republics. They are succeeding where Napolean and Hitler failed.

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British News

Pensioners march on the TUC

by Ray Jones in Brighton

UNDER the slogans: "Restore the link with wages" and "Dignity, not poverty" pensioners marched from Brighten Station to the TUC conference last Sunday in a demonstration organised by the Brighten and Rove Pensioners' Association.

 They marched behind an excellent band and piper and without a police officer in sight.

 And they insisted on marching to the front entrance of the conference centre instead of being shunted round the back as had happened in other years.

 But when they got inside they found their rally was not in the main hall, as it has been before, but in a smaller hall upstairs.

 Even this was not available immediately as the TUC press conference was taking place in it. Worse still, the teas and biscuits that were laid on were in this hall too so the pensioners had to wait for those as well.

 Needless to say there were more than a few sharp comments. The feeling was that again the pensioners were not being taken seriously.

 Eventually the press filed out and, in a nice exchange of roles, were barracked and lobbied by the pensioners.

 Over 300 crowded into the hall, which had to be extended by removing a partition -- so perhaps the main hall should have been used!

 TUC president Hector McKenzie gave a strong opening, stating clearly that the basic state pension is not enough to live on and is now only 16 per cent of average earnings. He said something has to be done urgently.

 Sylvia Green from the retired members' section of the public sector union Unison, with a background in social serviccs, underlined the plight of many pensioners in cheap private residential care homes where the care can be poor and the outspoken may be sedated into silence.

 Actress Miriam Karlin quoted Dame Peggy Ashcroft: "Old age is a bugger". She said what is really needed is a redistribution of wealth but this is unlikely under New Labour.

 Unfortunately after this promising start she went on about trade union pension schemes.

 From TUC general secretary John Monks the pensioners got a mixture of platitudes and support, albeit critical support, for stakeholder and second pensions.

 The chairperson almost closed the meeting before realising he had not asked the final speaker, Jack Jones, to speak.

 Any Blairites present must have been sorry that he realised his mistake because after thanking the TUC for its efforts, Jack did not pull any punches.

 The answer, he said, is not private pensions but a revival of the social insurance and some thing could be done now.

 The government has over £5.5 billion in the social services fund, Jack pointed out, and the rich can well afford to pay more after the tax gifts they received from the Tories.

 An increase in the state pension to £75 a week is possible at once as well as the link to wages restored.

 Jack reminded the audience that the TUC had in the past helped to obtain the link with wages by the threat of industrial action. Where, he asked pointedly, was that spirit now?

 More in the spirit of New labour, the meeting ended without the traditional speech from the Brighton and Hove pensioners or any time allowed for questions and points from the floor.

  *  The government last Tuesday announced that 10 million pensioners will geta payment of £100 towards winter heating bills. This should be paid our before Christmas.

 Most pensioner organisations welcomed this as far as it went but Scottish pensioners pointed out that winters there are longer and colder and payments for those north of the border should be proportionately greater.

 * A report last week from the London School of Economics centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion revealed that middleaged workers who are in good occupational pension schemes are more likely to be made redundant or pressured into early retirement.

 Research showed that two fifths of men aged between 55 and 65 are now without work compared to one fifth in 1979. And older women have not shared the general rise in female employment levels.

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