The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 18th January 2002

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Editorial - Cough up and shut up!
Lead Story - Unions slam 'Railtrack of the NHS'.
Feature - Tube fined for profits before safety policy.
International - General Strike sweeps Nigeria.
British News - Working class students forced out.
More news and Diary


Cough up and shut up!

...THAT'S the message for the many millions who make up the working class of Britain. For even though we constantly pay the piper, we never get to call the tune.

 If this wasn't so the railway industry would no longer be in private hands and the creepy crawly methods used to privatise the health service would be stopped, since these policies are not what the majority of people want.

 The government's obsession with privatising everything stems from the sickening class collaboration practised by Labour's current leaders. For Blair and his lackeys this means keeping the rich in the manner to which they are accustomed. This it seems is the first priority in these crisis-ridden times. The fact that this means squeezing the rest of us is just too bad.

 The government of course pretends its privatisation campaign is an economic necessity. But none of the privatisation/private-public-partnership or Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes make economic sense for the majority of the people who have created these great assets in the first place -- though it makes plenty of sense for the wealthy private investors who can hardly wait to buy into these relatively safe and lucrative operations.

 These schemes are always bad news for workers who all too often find that new ownership means wholesale job cuts and new (and much worse) employment contracts. The splitting up of nationwide industries undermines national collective bargaining on wages and conditions. It enables bosses to more easily use the anti-union laws designed to head-off solidarity actions. Little wonder that privatisation is opposed by most public sector trade unions.

 The schemes are also bad news for consumers. They have led to price rises in many essential services including energy supplies, water and fares. People are not provided with greater choice nor have we seen improved services.

 The government knows there is widespread discontent. The demise of Railtrack was greeted by most train passengers with open delight -- people had had enough of the rotten service, the excuses, and above all the horrors of Southall, Paddington and Hatfield -- three disasters that need not have happened.

 The privatisation policies are not least of all bad news for taxpayers, the majority of whom are workers taxed on the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system. Privatisation robs us all of public assets. It deprives the public purse of potential income and it destroys democratic control.

 What a contrast all of this is to the fuss that was made about the supposed poor, downtrodden Railtrack shareholders, who after receiving buckets of public money over the years were beside themselves with rage when the gravy train was finally derailed -- at least they'd be familiar with that!

 If capitalist democracy was the great wonder it is cracked up to be, the wishes of the majority would prevail and the entire rail system would be renationalised. Any subsidies needed would be ploughed into genuine improvements to the infrastructure, safety and reliable running of the networks. Revenues from the fares would be returned to the public purse.

 If the majority really did decide, the National Health Service would not be subjected to a host of greedy fingers poking around for lucrative pickings. Successive governments are very wary about going for a full-frontal privatised health service -- it could meet a similar resistance to that of the Poll Tax protests. Instead it is being privatised a little bit at a time and PFI is being used to ensure any new developments are in hock to the finance houses right from day one.

 We all need to fight against privatisation in all its guises. And we need to step up the longer struggle to end the capitalist system once and for all -- the day will come when the workers will decide and our voices will be heard!

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Lead Story

Unions slam 'Railtrack of the NHS'

by Daphne Liddle

PUBLIC sector unions reacted furiously last week when Health Secretary Alan Milburn announced plans to step up the privatisation of the NHS.

 He suggested that managers of the top-performing "three star" hospitals should be made independent to run their own affairs as "not-for-profit" companies while struggling hospitals should be handed over to be managed by private enterprise, a charity or a university.

 He claimed that now national standards and a national inspectorate have been set up, it is safe to do that.

 John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union said the plan is a recipe for anarchy. Causing a proliferation of hundreds of competing organisations, outbidding each other for scarce healthcare staff.

 "He is creating Railtrack on a hospital trolley," said Mr Edmonds.

 The GMB has run full-page advertiseglents in national newspapers, asking the public if they want the NHS to be run like Railtrack -- and if not to phone or write to their MP to say so.

 Labour back-bench MPs were also quick to criticise the new moves. Even Frank Dobson, once a staunch Blairite was angered.

 He said he "reluctantly" broke his two-year public silence to join back-bench colleagues in criticising Blair's determination to create a "mixed economy" in the NHS.

 He said: "The fact that some NHS hospitals are outstandingly successful does demonstrate that they are quite capable of doing a fist-rate job without their management being franchised."

 And he reminded the Government of "private sector disasters" like Equitable Life and Marconi. Mr Dobson asked what skills private managers could bring to the NHS and why, now more money is being pumped in, the "public sector ethos which managed to bring the NHS through all the Tory years" should not be given its head.

 David Hinchcliffe, who chairs the Commons select committee on health, said he found the plans "incredibly worrying" and added: "We have learned nothing from the previous government. We are increasingly following the same policies."

 Milburne's plans echo those that have been implemented in education -- where the running of "failing" schools and even education authorities has been shifted to the private sector and "super heads" introduced to work quick miracles.

 These policies have completely failed to improve matters and have actually made them a lot worse but Milburn is ignoring this.

 The reasons for "failing" hospitals and schools are many and complex but decades of underfunding, neglect and staff shortages have a lot to do with it. None of this can be remedied instantly -- especially when so much of the funding is already being siphoned off into private pockets.

 But the private sector sees in these things another opportunity to get its hands on some taxpayers money.

 And it is capitalism that runs the country, whichever party sits on those House of Commons front benches.

 Milburn's claim that an inspectorate will protect standards is ludicrous. There will not be enough newly independent inspectors and the only really publicly accountable inspectors of the NHS, the Community Health Councils, are being abolished.

 If this plan is allowed to go ahead the NHS will divide into a few elite hospitals with all the funding, running themselves in competition with other hospitals. How long before patients at such hospitals are expected to contribute to costs, perhaps at first just for "extra" services? Already PFI hospitals charge through the nose for the use of bedside telephone and television consoles.

 And for the rest of us there will be the "failing" hospitals run as economically as possible by profit-hungry companies.

 The work will be sub-contracted and sub-contracted again. No one will know who is responsible for what and all accountability will get lost in the fog.

 All the fine phrases uttered to the unions promising protection of terms and conditions of healthworkers' jobs will be meaningless. There will be no job security or protection. The jobs will go to those who are willing to do them for the least cost.

 This plan must be stopped or the NHS will be destroyed. Blair can and must be stopped. Even leading Labour members who were once duped by him are seeing the light. They must support the unions and reclaim that party for the working class.

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Tube fined for profits before safety policy

by Caroline Colebrook

LONDON UNDERGROUND last week faced fines totalling more than £225,000 at London's Blackfriar's Court for horrendous breaches of health and safety rules that put workers and passengers at great risk.

 In particular the company was fined For failing to stop the regime of a manager, David Elkington known as "Dangeous Dave", who forced repair teams to risk their lives working close to passing trains and with the electric current still switched on.

 Elkington worked between April 1998 and January 2000. In that time 27 employees reported safely concerns.

 Judge John Samuels said that London Underground had paid little more than "lip service" to safety issues and said he was concerned that it will take years to correct the situation.

 He said: "This was a case in which safety was sacrificed for the dominant demands of management to keep trains running at all costs: and thus to support the profitability of the system."

 Elkington had been in charge of a £20 million project relaying heavy duty cables on the Central Line.

 He was under pressure to get the work done quickly and so forced staff to work with metal tools just within centimetres of live rails.

 Train drivers did not always know where the repair workers were working and on one occasion workers had to jump for their lives as a train sped past.

 Many workers sustained electric shocks and were lucky not to be killed. One had to be hospitalised and had to be kept on a heart monitor for several hours.

 When the Health and Safety Executive received an anonymous tip-off about Elkington, it issued a ban on working at the trackside.


 Elkington reacted by trying to intimidate the inspector, warning him he would face the responsibility if the Central Line was closed down. He ordered his men to continue working.

 He was put on trial last June. At the trial, prosecutor James Ageros described his attitude as "cavalier and reckless".

 Elkington's bosses were also blamed. "It seems no thought was given to a proper and phased plan for the work," said Mr Ageros, " neither by Mr Elkington nor by those at London Underground who ought to have been overseeing the work."

 A jury convicted Elkington on four counts of failing to discharge his duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act and he was ordered to pay £5,000 in fines and compensation.

 London Underground admitted six breaches of health and safety regulations at that trial.

 But the judge had postponed sentencing the company for six months so that new health and safety measures could be examined by inspectors. But he was still not satisfied that enough improvements had been made.

 Last week the judge said: "It is deeply regrettable that the basic safely requirements of such a vital institution has posed such a Herculean task. There is no room for complacency here."

 He accused the LU, from the board down, of lacking "clearsighted common sense and direction" and of "institutional blindness towards safety issues".

 The RMT transport union said the case gave ample evidence that LU has not got a grip on safety.

 Clearly the sooner control of the Tube is handed over to London mayor Ken Livingstone and his transport commissioner Bob Kiley, the better.
And it is a vindication of Kiley's insistence that day to day control of safety issues should behanded over to him, no matter what the new structure of the Tube may be, whether the Government's public private partnership plans go ahead or not.

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General Strike sweeps Nigeria

MOST OF NIGERIA was shut down on Wednesday when workers downed tools across the entire country in protest at sweeping rises in the cost of fuel. Business came to a standstill in most cities and ports, including Lagos and the federal capital, Abuja.

 Factories, offices, shops and schools were closed when hundreds of thousands of working people heeded the strike call of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in protest at the 18 per cent price hike.

 Talks with the government broke down earlier in the week and some workers had preempted the national call by walking out earlier.

 Though largely peaceful so far, there have been some clashes between police and pickets in Lagos and other towns. The strike has been declared illegal and the NLC President Adams Oshiomhole were briefly arrested together with other union leaders.

 The mass support for the action reflects the fury of most Nigerians at the savage increase in petrol and diesel in a country that is awash with oil. Nigeria is one of the world's biggest oil producers though the only benefit working people, whose wages are some of the lowest in the world, have ever received from it has been cheap fuel.

 The government has ordered the police to deal "appropriately" with potential lawbreakers, arguing that the economy can no longer afford to "subsidise" the cost of fuel and spreading rumours that of big pay rises in the spring.

 Union leaders have dismissed all this as rubbish. "There is no subsidy on petroleum products in the country." Dr Fashina of the academics union declared. "There is no justification for selling petrol at the domestic market at $18 per barrel when it is produced locally at $10 per barrel, especially because the $10 per barrel cost gives the government substantial profit already," he said.

 And NLC General Secretary John Odah warned: "You must have heard that the Federal Government is engaging in a reverse strategy of how to make the strike fail. So we all have to work together to ensure that even if the governors of the 36 states decide to join with Abuja against the people who voted them in, we the people of Nigeria can tell those we elected that they are in power because we voted them in. So they must listen to us.

 "People have told us that when we mellow down, we will get our 25 per cent pay rise in May," he added. " We have told them that this will be a betrayal of the Nigerian people. We can't have a 25 per cent pay rise that is worthless, that cannot buy anything worthy,"

 President Olusegun Obansanjo is hoping to weather the storm though he knows the power of organised labour. Two years ago the unions forced the government to back down over similar measures, which were withdrawn.

 Immediate protests from the Brussels's based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and African unions forced the government to release the NLC leader and the others, who have all been bailed on charges of incitement, unlawful assembly, criminal conspiracy and disturbance of the public peace.

 The federal high court had declared the general strike, which is indefinite, illegal on the grounds that the unions had not given 21-days notice required under Nigeria's labour laws. But the unions have dismissed this as a political act pointing out that the law does not apply to national strikes.

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British News

Working class students forced out

THE GOVERNMENT last week blamed universities for the high and growing drop-out rate for students from working class backgrounds.

 The universities responded by blaming lack of funding for students and the fact that many of them build up huge debts in the course of their studies.

 New figures show drop out rates ofup to 50 percent in some universities. The figures are worst at some of the newer universities -- the former polytechnics.

 Prestige universities like Oxford and Cambridge have much lower drop out rates but the Government says that is because they have a higher proportion of middle class students who are less likely to drop out.

 The Government has accused these universities of not doing enough to encourage working class students.

 Education Secretary Estelle Morris has written to the main university funding council demanding action.

 And the Government is about to launch an advertising campaign to try to encourage working class young people to enter university. This will involve super-model Naomi Campbell and footballer Steven Gerrard.

 The universities have reacted angrily to the Government's accusations. Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK which represents Britain's universities, said: "We are well aware of the issues faced by higher education institutions regarding retention.

 "But we are equally aware that there can be many reasons why students do not complete their courses. These could include financial difficulties, choosing the wrong course and family or health considerations.

 "Another factor may, of course, be the level of continuing support that students from non-traditional backgrounds receive.

 "This is why in our submission to the Government's 2002 spending review we highlighted the need to fully fund the additional costs involved in recruiting, retaining and supporting these students throughout their studies."

 Meanwnile the Government has dropped plans to scrap student tuition fees, even though they are Labour's most unpopular policy.

 This followed a warning from the Treasury that scrapping tuition fees and financing the universities from taxation on graduates as had been proposed would add three pence to their basic rate of tax.

 The Government has decided that is politically impossible.

 Estelle Morris has promised te try to compensate by extending full grants for poorer students and asking students to pay fees at the end of their studies instead of at the beginning.

 Full grants for poor students are complex and difficult to apply for, involving many means tests and what is available varies very much from place to place.

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