The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 18th April, 1997

There are so many good stories in this week's print edition that it was very difficult to choose what to put in this digest. Think about taking out a subscription to the paper. Thanks to everyone for writing this week.

Workers of all countries, unite!

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Editorial - Taking the fight to Blair
Lead Story - Essex firefighters solid for action.
Feature - Plan to let nurses decide treatment.
International - Zairean rebels advance on Kinshasa.
British News - Dockers march brings London to a halt.


Taking the fight to Blair

THE opinion polls and other soundings show the Tories are still floundering. They have not been able to regain the pole position of previous general elections despite the huge sums of money pouring into their election campaign purse.

But this doesn't mean Labour is certain of a landslide or even a clear victory. This is because widespread dislike of the Tory government does not automatically lead to nationwide commitment to voting Labour -- even though this is the only way the Tories can be ousted.

The danger is not that the Conservatives will suddenly sweep the electorate off its feet in some last minute charm offensive, but that Tony Blair will make so many concessions to business interests and the ruling class that Labour's traditional supporters -- whom he seems to take for granted - will fail to vote or will turn to fringe candidates who can neither win nor get rid of the Tories.

Some on the left am so disgusted and dismayed by the Labour leadership's capitulation to ruling class demands which aim to leave most of the Tory legislation intact - that they are in two minds about voting Labour. They are worried that a vote for Labour would be seen as giving support to Blair and his cronies.

Unfortunately, though these feelings are understandable, failing to vote Labour will not address any of the problems or deflect Tony Blair from his rightwards course. All it will do is unwittingly assist the Tories.

The question is, how can the immediate demands of the working class be best advanced and how can the ruling class agenda be resisted and opposed?

The most urgent thing we need to do is to kick the Tories out, putting a brake on the momentum of the monetarist, radical right steamroller. The bigger the Labour majority, the harder that brake will be applied.

We also have to take the fight to Tony Blair. And odd though it may sound, the larger Labour's majority, the greater the pressure on Blair. A massive majority will mean there can be no hiding behind the skirts of other parties in the House of Conrmons and no pretending that the Tory clothes Blair seems so keen to wear are anything other than hideous rags the electorate don't want to see any more.

No doubt Blair will want to claim that such a victory is an endorsement of his efforts to "modernise" the Labour Party and his right wing policies. But the extent to which the Blairite clique can project that illusion will depend on the strength of the fightback by the labour movement and the sounds of working class struggle outside of Parliament.

And there will be a fightback -- assisted by the lifting of morale that would come with a Labour victory.

Their will be resistance to the attack on democracy within the Labour Party. For a start, the trade unions, including those with right wing leaderships, will not be told to sit quietly inthe corner and only be allowed to move in order to put their hands in their purses -- they will demand a say.

And if a Blair-led government tries to restrict the rights of public sector workers, the public sector unions will fight back just as they did against Thatcher's attack on the rights of trade unionists at GCHQ.

Above all the ideas and policies of the right, whether from the Tories or the right wing of the Labour Party, need to be challenged and attacked and working class demands and policies fought and argued for. But we cannot take the fight to Blair by walking away.

The communist voice, that of our party and our paper, needs to be louder and stronger. It was after all the objective setbacks to the communist movement in Britain and in other countries which were a factor in allowing the politics of the right to gain so much ground.

This situation has to be turned around. This will assist the struggle against the ideas of the right and the collaborationist postures of the Blair camp. But it is also vital in exposing and opposing the limitations and illusions of social democracy itself and giving expression to the need for building a socialist society in which the working class holds the reins of state power.
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Lead Story

Essex firefighters solid for action

Defending the fire service, jobs, and the public

by Steve Lawton

ESSEX firefighters, who decided last Friday to take industrial action by a margin of 58.2 per cent, reaffirmed their determination to strike on Saturday 19 April and on Monday 21 April if Essex County Council fails to reverse the 1.5 million Fire Service cuts implemented two weeks ago.

A two-day round of what Essex FBU brigade secretary Keith Handscomb called "arduous" talks with Essex council leaders, resolved nothing.

Union concern about cuts in firefighters, training and equipment were ignored by councillors who sidetracked the key issues into endless talk of "mediation".

FBU assistant brigade secretary Graham Noakes said "After two days the council's position has not budged an inch. As we speak, their 1.5 million cut is eating away at our life-saving service and each day that passes sees the demise of the Fire Service."

Councillors had six weeks notice of the dispute to decide on a mediator, said FBU brigade chair Barry Downey. He told the New Worker that Essex council leaders "consistently refused" to accept union representatives talking directly to council officials on the issues.

"But when we put forward the name of an independent mediator, they refused to accept that too." That's left the councillors, as we go to press, until the Thursday meeting to come up with a mediator.

As Barry Downey told the New Worker: "We told them the clock is still ticking, and the planned actions stand". In fact, they are also prepared for a four-hour stoppage on 23 April.

Despite this obvious failure, Labour leader of Essex County Council Chris Pearson maintained that "both sides had made significant progress".

Interviewed in Wednesday's Essex county daily Evening Echo, Premier John Major attacked the firefighters as "irresponsible". He said it "showed a total disregard for the people of Essex."

A local report has highlighted how serious the situation could become if County bosses maintain their position. A domestic fire occurred an Tuesday night on Canvey Island -- a danger zone with oil refinaries and increased housing -- which was immediately attended to. But in a strike situation the nearest Green Goddess will be at Hadleigh, about 20 minutes drive away.

Essex Fire Brigade Union (FBU), inthe strike decision statement last Friday, said: "The FBU condemns Essex county council's irresponsible decision to cut more than 1.5 million from the Fire Service Budget resulting in less firefighters, reduced training, deteriorating conditions for all staff and a service at breaking point."

government cuts

This is part of a 22 million slashing of the County's budget by order of central government. Over the past three years the across-the-board Tory government cuts to Essex have totalled around 90 million. The Essex FBU said: "This is the third successive cut adding up to a devastating 3 million over three years.

The statement explained: "In 1996 Essex firefighters dealt with the largest number of special service calls ever, and rescued 127 people from fires -- the largest number of casualties for more than a decade.

"In response, Essex county council have decided to axe the number of firefighters employed by more than 50." They feel they are at the end of the road with all options having been closed to them. Essex FBU said: "Since the ballot process started 28 days ago, Essex councillors have avoided meeting with the FBU, preferring to use intimidation instead of negotiation."

Essex county council - in a joint Labour and Liberal-Democrat-led administration has been endlessly wrangling over the issue at the heart of which are the obvious Tory government spending restrictions.

The Conservatives' initial attitude was that cuts had nothing to do with their government and was a matter for Essex county council and the FBU alone.

In mid-March the FBU were warned by Essex County Council that if Essex firefighters took industrial action, certain "options" would be considered: deduction in pay for the duration of the strike; suspension of employment contracts if the strike is prolonged; and if they do not return to work after requests to do so -- they would be sacked. These threats have been reissued.

Furthermore, since the talks, an "apparant" threatened withdrawal of pay for a whole shift if firefighters strike for one hour of it has been made. Their legal advice suggests that amounts to a lock-out.

The Tory attitude hardened against the firefighters on the eve of the ballot result as John Major accused firefighters of "holdihg Britain to ransom". He said the Tories would stop strikes in essential services. Deputy Premier Michael Heseltine intervened a few hours after the result was known and condemned the strike outright.

But this is clearly turning into a test of Labour's commitment to defending one of the most vital services we have at a very sensitive moment. Labour's Jack Straw was quick to back the county council's position.

But Ken Cameron, general secretary of the FBU, was clear that this "is a direct consequence of the serious underfunding of the UK Fire Service over the last 18 years.

He said: "Time and time again we have warned the government and the Home Secretary of the dangers resulting from the underfunding of the service. They have ignored us. It has now reached the point where fire service staff are being placed at further, unnecessary risk when they already lay their lives on the line daily to serve our communities."

Fire chiefs for London and Cambridgeshire failed to guarantee firefighters' safety when covering for calls in Essex during the dispute. This is because they would be "working in unfamiliar territory alongside trained, ill-equipped, inadequate military," the FBU said.

They will therefore also now ballot their members, beginning on Saturday 19 April.

Essex firefighters point to the stupidity of paying out an estimated 50,000 a week for 25 Green Goddeses -- now stationed in Colchester to cover 14 locations in the county -- simply to sit there, when the budget is apparently so tight. Army personnel will have had just four days of training by the time of the expected 19 April strike.

As was clear from the firefighters' protest march through Southend on 22 March, reported two weeks ago, Leigh and Rochford fire stations would close if the cuts went ahead.

Firefighters' are planning a rally adjacent to County Hall on Tuesday 29 April.
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Plan to let nurses decide treatment

by Caroline Colebrook

QUEEN'S Medical Centre in Nottingham -- one of the largest hospitals in Britain -- plans to allow nurses to assess and treat children with serious illnesses or injuries and send them home without seeing a doctor.

The nurses will be expected to interpret X-rays, diagnose illnesses and decide on further treatment. A project is being set up to assess the plan, which will be coordinated by Dr Lynn Williams, a paediatric consultant.

She does admit that if this goes ahead, it would be important to take the word "nurse" out of their titles.

But it is one more step along a route now being taken by many hospitals and trusts to de-skill medical practice and save money.

Nurses are paid a lot less than doctors.

Last year it came to light that a nurse at Clattersbridge Hospital in Liverpool had performed more than 200 unsupervised operations.

And three years ago there was great controversy after a nurse in Cornwall took over from a surgeon during an appendectomy.

The British Medical Association has criticised the Nottingham plan, saying: "A nurse does not have the whole medical training -- particularly in the area of diagnosis. The nature of the training is different.

"The skills and responsibilities of nurses have increased markedly over the past decade but the new proposals will meet strong resistance in some quarters."

And Dr Ian Watt, speaking for the Royal College of Radiologists, warned that It takes 14 years to train a radiologist.

"There is a naive view that an X-ray is either normal or abnormal," he said. "Often that is not true. It takes a lot of experience to interpret.

"You cannot get the training and experience to interpret images in just a couple of weeks or even a couple of months. It takes a very long time."

Many experienced nurses are very highly skilled -- more so than junior doctors in many instances. And there is now a group of nurse practitioners lobbying for recognition.

But that strengthens the case for making it easier for experienced nurses to train to become doctors at some stage in their career -- removing the traditional barrier that was based heavily on class and sexism between the "professionals" and the "workers" in health care.

It is not an argument for providing health care for our children on the cheap and loading inexperienced and untrained people with responsibilities beyond their skills -- which is what is happening.

And there are doubts that the health trust insurers would be willing to underwrite the mistakes made by nurses if they made a wrong decision.

Meanwhile the basic salaries of NHS chief executives last year rose by 6.2 percent -- more than double the rates for nurses and doctors.

The figures come from a report published last weekby independent analysts Income Data Services after a survey of nearly 400 NHS trusts.

The bosses got an average 62,000 a year plus bonuses of around 6,000.
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Zairean rebels advance on Kinshasa

ZAIRE'S rebel army has liberated two more cities and units are now on the road to the capital. In Kinshasa, the city was brought to a standstill on Monday following a call by opposition parties for a general strike. And a former premier has fled the country with millions of dollars and an international arrest warrant has been issued by the Zairean authorities.

Pressure is growing on General Mobuto to finally resign and allow the formation ofa rebel-led transitional government. Laurent Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire has said that they will not object to the dying dictator spending his final days in his home town if he steps down and hands over power in an orderly fashion.

And this has been endorsed by Etienne Tshisekedi, the leader of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress who was sacked by Mobuto one week after being nominated premier.

Tshisekedi led the call for the Kinshasa general strike in support of the Alliance, whose forces now control two-thirds of the central African country. He clearly hopes for a new role in a Kabila-led government on the strength of his support in Kinshasa.

Confusion reigns in Kinshasa. Mobuto's loyal Presidential Guard has been deployed around the city to try and maintain order. But the major fear is that they too will go on the rampage before liberation and take what they can. Former premier Kengowa Dongo has apparently taken his share already; embezzling millions from the public purse before fleeing abroad.

Meanwhile the war goes on as the Alliance pushes forward on all fronts and is encountering little resistance. Though Mobuto's Special Presidential Division has put up a fight in Shaba province the rest of the Zairean army is deserting in droves. Kanaga, the capital of the western Kasai region in south-central Zaire, was freed last Sunday. And the rebels have now taken the city of Kolwezi in the southern Shaba province.

"the Foreign Minister of the Alliance's self-proclaimed Democratic Republic of Congo has again ruled out any ceasefire unless Mobuto goes. Speaking to the press in the Alliance centre of Goma, Bizima Karaha said their position was "never a ceasefire before talks".

No-one knows what Mobuto will do now. He isn't likely to willingly accept the rebel offer of a peaceful retirement as he is aware, more than anyone else, of the wrath of the people who have endured 30 years of his corrupt rule. And his family are believed to be now urging him to get on the plane to Europe for the last time. A rebel victory will be welcomed by many in Africa as a move which can only bring peace and stability to this mineral-rich country. Uganda and Rwanda will welcome an Alliance government which is likely to be speedily recognised by many Westem countries including Britain.

The others have now dumped Mobuto as they can see that he's finished.

The United States said last week that Mobuto "is on the point of becoming a creature of history". This was echoed by Belgian Foreign Minister Erik Derycke who declared that The page of Mobutoism has been definitely turned".

But the Belgian's description of the Kinshasa government as "a military dictatorship" cynically ignored the fact that its long life was due mainly to the support it received from Belgium and France, not to mention the United States.

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British News

Dockers march brings London to a halt

by Daphne Liddle

MORE than 20,000 people took to the streets of London last Saturday to express their support for the sacked Liverpool dockers in their 19-month fight for reinstatement and to make a list of other demands for social justice.

The massive demonstration, the biggest London has seen for several years, was organised by the London support unit for the dockers' struggle.

The demonstration marched, in brilliant sunshine, from Kennington Park to Trafalgar Square, led by two pipers and accompanied by several bands.

The dozens of trade union banners on the march included those of the Port of London dockers, Tower Colliery National Union of Mineworkers, South Yorkshire NUM, the Magnet strikers, the Hillingdon Hospital workers and a dockers' banner from Japan.

Just behind the leading contingent of Liverpool dockers was a collection of banners expressing other demands of the march: "Defend the Welfare State", 'Restore Trade Union Rights", "Troops Out of Ireland" and many more.

Also on the march, in festive mood, were thousands of young people supporting the anti-roads movement. They brought with them a red dragon and banners proclaiming slogans such as: "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution" and "Trees, not MPs".

The march proceeded slowly, it included many small children and quite a number of people in wheelchairs, demanding the restoration of fair benefits for the disabled.

There were some clashes with police as it passed Downing Street.

Speakers at the rally in Trafalgar Square included Doreen McNally from the Women of the Waterfront -- the solidarity movement organised by dockers' wives.

She explained how the dispute, in which 500 dockers were locked out after refusing to cross a picket line, had transformed the lives of their families.

And the dockers' leader Jimmy Nolan spoke of the magnificent solidarity the Liverpool dockers have received from other dock workers around the world.

Other speakers included Jeremy Corbyn MP and John Bird, the editor and founder of the Big Issue.

As the speeches proceeded the young anti-roads protesters filled the square and began partying. They spread across the roads around the square, forcing police to close them to the thunderous traffic that normally flows non-stop.

For a few hours it was possible to experience just what a beautiful city London can be on a sunny spring day when the traffic has disappeared.

Groups just sat a picnicked where taxis, cars and buses normally compete to fill the air with fumes. With all the noise from music, drumming, whistles and so on, it was still much quieter of how pleasant the place could be if recent proposals to pedestrianise it were carried out.


But the police could not tolerate this for long and they soon sealed off the square, allowing no more pedestrians to enter. They claimed the square was dangerously overcrowded, although this was patent nonsense.

Without traffic, there were acres of space and it was much less dangerous than normal.

As the evening wore on, the police blockade of the square was gradually moved outward to disperse the crowds of people trying to get into the square and this led to more clashes with the police and damage to a police car.

But the main point of the march, to express solidarity with the dockers, and to give expression to many different groups who have suffered under Tory policies, had been well and truly made.

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