The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 18th July, 1997


Workers of all countries, unite!


Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition

Please feel free to use this material provided the New Worker is informed and credited.


Editorial - A better way.
Lead Story - Teachers condemn crude "snapshot" judgements.
Feature - Respect goes from strength to strength.
International - Arafat in London peace call.
British News - Strikers force BA to back down.



Editorial


A better way.


THERE is no doubt that traffic congestion in our major cities is a matter of serious concern. It not only makes journeys to and from work longer and more stressful but it is creating a growing problem of air pollution from vehicle exhausts. Repairs to the over-used roads mean more hold-ups as lanes are coned-off -- not to mention the costs involved.

If we close our minds to this problem it will not just quietly go away. Car ownership in Britain is still on the increase. The driving schools are busy training new motorists every day.

It is of course widely accepted that something has to be done. In recent years a number of ideas have been aired aimed at cutting the volume of vehicles on our most crowded motorways and in inner city areas.

One proposal that's been around for a few years is to introduce toll charges on some motorways. Another, more recent suggestion, is to charge motorists for permits to enter central London.

These ideas should be opposed as they effectively make driving on certain roads or in the heart of the capital a privilege for the better-off. No doubt the number of cars in these places would be reduced by such levies, but it would be working people and those on low incomes who will be forced off the road.

We need a positive and equitable approach to these problems and that means drastically improving all our public transport services and lowering fares.

We know that this approach can be successful. The old Greater London Council, scrapped by the Thatcher government, introduced a "Fares Fare" policy in the capital in which fares were held down to a reasonable level and services improved.

While the scheme was allowed to last, car traffic on London's roads went down as more and more people took to the tubes and buses. More jobs were created in the public transport industry, road repairs were less and getting about the city and suburbs was considerably quicker and easier than it is today.

Similar schemes were introduced in other cities, like the excellent flat fare system on Sheffield's buses, which were also highly successful and popular.

After years of neglect many improvements are needed to both the infrastructure and services if public transport is to attract more passengers.

No one is going to leave the car at home if they know there is a very strong chance they will have to put up with a lengthy wait in the rain for a bus, a tube or train journey delayed by signal, points or electrical failures, leaves or snow on the line, fire or flood in the tube, escalators that don't work and trains which, like Cinderella's coach, turn back into pumpkins at midnight.

People don't want to ride in ancient railway carriages that are deemed unsafe by the Health and Safety Executive. They don't want badly lit, unstaffed stations with inadequate shelter from the wind and rain, no toilets, no guards on trains, dirty carriages and standing-room only for miles and miles.

At least in the car you're guaranteed a seat and you can be warm and dry.

And for letting "the train take the strain" you must dig deep into your pocket. A family travelling by car pays far less than it would by train.

But for fares to come down, and service quality to go up, there needs to be a massive injection of money from central government. This must come from those who can easily afford to pay -- the wealthy who have enjoyed years of income tax reductions under the Tories.

A policy of progressive taxation has to be introduced if public transport and other public services are to be adequately funded. Of course, in the case of public transport, the increase in the number of passengers following the investment of capital and funding would eventually lead to an increase in revenues.

Investment of public money has to be for the benefit of the public as a whole and not just used to boost the profits of private companies. There has to be no further privatisation in the industry -- that means preventing the tube from falling into private hands, and the privatisations already in place must be rolled-back -- including re-introducing regulation for bus services.

The government talks about marking the millenium -- an affordable, safe, reliable and integrated public transport system would do very nicely!

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Lead Story


Teachers condemn crude "snapshot" judgements


EDUCATION unions reacted angrily last week to news of a tougher system of grading teachers. The new appraisal scheme was announced last Tuesday by Chris Woodhead, boss of the privatised schools inspectorate, Ofsted. It is due to come into force in September.

The new rules are supposedly meant to identify and dismiss incompetent teachers. Mr Woodhead pointed out that the system would give more recognition to those teachers doing "a brilliant job". But, he warned: "if teachers are not doing the job that they're paid to do, they shouldn't be in post".

Under the new system the seven-point scale used to grade teachers by Ofsted would be contracted into a crude three point scale. In addition inspectors will be asked to send a secret report on every teacher they visit to school heads.

This comes on top of last week's government White Paper which said that schools would get shorter notice of inspections in order to minimise disruption.

The Ofsted plans were condemned by teachers' unions. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers described the plan as "absurd". He said it would "further undermine the credibility of inspectors" and he warned there would be a flood of appeals from teachers against "inadequate snapshot judgements".

This concern was shared by Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, who said that teachers could not be assessed by "a wild stab in the dark" based on a brief visit to a classroom.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said: "We are going to see a crude system of judge-and-run by Ofsted inspecters, often basing their views on visits of between 10 and 15 minutes to each lesson". on one day or one lesson. As one London teacher told the New Worker: "Everyone has off days and if you're a teacher you can't afford to have one of those when Ofsted's around".

One teacher he knew was inspected on the same day as she had "trashed" her car in an accident. Shaken and upset she felt she had not done herself justice in the inspection.

There is also anger at the effect of this witch-hunt approach on schools. Morale is very low and, not surprisingly, recruitment into the profession is down by ten per cent.

Coming at the end of term one teacher simply said he was "too tired to comment"!

Chris Woodhead has introduced the new grading system because he believes there are 13,500 incompetent teachers. But his inspectors only identified 88 out of 2000 inspections in last year's reports.

This could mean his estimation is wildly wrong. But Mr Woodhead seems convinced that his inspectors have failed to find the thousands of incompetent teachers, so he has adjusted the system to help them.

The whole business of introducing more and more draconian methods of inspecting schools, started by the Tories, is based on the false premise that educationial standards are solely down to the quality of teaching.

As one Suffolk teacher commented, "no one judges doctors by the number of healthy patients they have. If such a measurement was made the doctors would soon point out that you couldn't compare a practice in a heavily industrialised area with high levels of pollution, low incomes and poor housing with a stockbroker village in the leafy shires."

Focusing attention on teachers is also a very convenient way for ministers to appear to be doing something to improve education without having to spend much money.

At the moment there is a 3.2 billion backlog of school building repairs waiting to be done.

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Feature


Respect goes from strength to strength


by Daphne Liddle
THE TRADES Union Congress and-racist Respect Festival last Saturday attracted more crowds than ever in the four year history of this annual event.

One local resident near the venue in Victoria Park, east London, said she had never seen Mile End Tube station more crowded as youngsters came from all over Britain and Europe for the festival.

And it was not just youngsters. Many noted that there was a much wider age mix at the festival than in previous years, showing that all generations can unite in opposmg racism and in celebrating the diversity of races and cultures now thriving in Britain.

Sponsorship for the event came from trades unions like Unison, the TGWU, GMB, NUT, FBU, USDAW, PTC, MSF and so on.

Those attending the event reported many more trade union stalls and tents than before and there was a lot of recruiting of young workers who came to the festival, under the slogan "Respect yourself, join a union".

Many community and anti-racist groups supported the festival and were represented, including the National Assembly Against Racism, the Asylum Rights Campaign, the Newham Monitoring Group, various churches, the Indian Workers' Association, the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign, Kick Racism Out of Football and Searchlight anti-fascist magazine.

There was also sponsorship from industry and from employers' organisations including the Cabinet Office, the NHS Executive, Ford Motors, the Midland Bank, the Guardian Media Group, Sainsbury's, Littlewoods, United Utilities, Hyundai, Kwik Save and even British Airways and many others.

Trade union pressure to make these companies commit themselves publicly to anti-racism will make it harder for employers to justify discrimination and lack of equal opportunities in the workplace.

And trades unionists will find it easier to demand they abide by best practices on equal opportunities if they have declared that this is their official company policy.

And, in spite of the public proclamations of these companies, the fight for equal opportunities is still very much an uphill one.

A recent report from the Commission for Racial Equality revealed that white job applicants are more than four times more likely to win a post than blacks when answering job advertisements.

And a TUC survey found that 43 per cent of non-white Londoners under 25 are unemployed and that the inequality has got worse over the last three years.

A recent study by the Policy Studies Institute revealed that more than 80 per cent of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis live in households with incomes below the national average.

The younger generation of black people are not so prepared to "know their place" as their parents and grandparents. So there is a real danger that the most talented young non-whites will leave this country for better prospects elsewhere in a brain drain that will leave Britain poorer.

The festival this year also co-incided with the European Year Against Racism and so there was an EEC dimension to the festival, with calls for stronger European Community laws against racism and discrimination at work.

But although the issues tackled by the festival are serious, the mood on the day was upbeat with many celebrities in attendance, or sending their best wishes.

Bands included Los Changueros, an international band, half of them coming from Havana, who are now on tour in Britain. They will be performing again on Sunday 20 July at the Cuba Lives free fiesta at Highbury Fields Islington.

Also there were the Bundu Boys, Fun-Da-Mental, the Specials and Dreadzone.

The international dance stage hosted performers from China, Turkey, Ireland, Bolivia, Natal (South Africa) and many other places.

Special entertainment was laid on for children by local east end boroughs Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

Altogether the Respect Festival went a very long way to making racism and discrimination thoroughly unrespectable.

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International


Arafat in London peace call


by Andy Brooks
"PEACE or Confusion," -they were the alternatives facing Palestinians and Israelis today, declared Yasser Arafat at a press conference in London on Tuesday. And the Palestinian leader made a powerful appeal for world-wide pressure to force Israel to abide by the Oslo peace agreements it had already signed and return to the peace process.

Speaking in English in front of the Arab diplomatic corps and the world's press in Chatham House, President Arafat returned to this theme time and time again.

Israeli leader Benyamin Netanyahu wants to cancel the Oslo agreements, he said. "But we have to ask ourselves, can he do it? Has he the right? Definitely not!" Arafat declared. "This was not a bilateral agreement. It was signed in the White House under the supervision of President Clinton himself and the co-sponsors, Russia and America, signed it. The European Union signed it. Norway has signed it. The Japanese: and also Egypt and Jordan have signed it. It is not a bilateral agreement. It is an international agreement".

"Are we dealing with one government -- or governments? This is the main question. We are not asking for the moon, only for what has been signed in the White House to be implemented!".

Arafat spoke of the anger of the Palestinians at Israel's refusal to implement the next stage of the pull-out from the West Bank and the decision to build new Zionist settlements in occupied Arab Jerusalem on confiscated Arab land.

"Not angry -- furious! They are now asking me -- is this the settlement which you have signed? Is this the Peace which we have voted for?" Arafat told his audience in his on-the-record report.

"No answer from my side. Keep quiet, keep quiet. For how long -- for how long?" he asked and charged that Israel's policy was only fuelling the fanatics on both sides.

He showed us a copy of the insulting poster depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a pig writing the Koran which had been plastered over Hebron by a Zionist fanatic. Another had been produced and a third showing the Virgin Mary with the head of a cow had appeared in the Arab city.

"Who can accept this?" Arafat asked. He knew the Israeli government had condemned these posters, but this government was also encouraging the fanatical groups behind them.

"What will be the result? Confusion in the whole area -- not only between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Which means that peace is in danger".

Israel has failed to implement 34 points of the Oslo agreement. There had been talks.

"Talks, talks, talks, talks, but nothing achieved. In spite of that I am telling you openly and frankly we are committed to the peace process. There is no other alternative."

Arafat reminded us that Netanyahu had been at the original Madrid peace conference which accepted the principle of "Land for Peace" based on UN resolutions 242 and 338. The Americans had guaranteed that there would be no demographic change during the transitional period including east Arab Jerusalem.

Peace was not only a Palestinian need, it's an Israeli need, an American need, a Russian need, an international need and an Arab need.

The Palestinian president said he was able to solve many prob lems when he dealt with the former Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. He revealed that now Israel had blocked any progress on Palestinian-European joint-venture development of the harbour at Gaza on "security" grounds.

The Dutch Premier told Netanyahu that the Europeans were ready to take care of the security of the harbour and the proposed Palestinian international airport themselves. Netanyahu agreed and then he suddenly backed down.

How long can the Palestinians put up with this together with the closures and sieges of the Palestinian towns. "We are the only party paying the price for peace," he said.

"Patience has limits," Arafat warned. "Peace is a strategic choice for the Palestinian people," and he appealed for international help to achieve it.

The Israelis were wasting time to give the impression they want peace.

"I have the right to ask all of those who have signed the agreement with me in the White House under the supervision of President Clinton to protect what they have signed. It is not a bilateral agreement".

The Israelis talk about "security, security, security". Arafat agreed to bilateral meetings on security with the Israelis while insisting on an American presence to witness the talks. Three or four meetings took place and then the Israelis stopped it. They didn't want the Americans there.

"Can you believe it?" Arafat asked. "I need a witness. If not the Americans, then the Europeans".

And the Palestinian leader saw an important role for Europe now. He pointed out, in answer to a question, that 70 per cent of Israel's trade is with the European Union. But Israel has been ignoring the EU representative in the peace process.

"The [United States] Congress is using the economic card against me. Why aren't the Europeans using the economic card against Israel? At least wave it!" he said to laughter.

But when somebody from Israel Radio asked Arafat to comment on Netanyahu's threat to take "severe action" against what the Israeli Premier called "Palestinian violence", the mood became more sombre.

"Violence from those in the hospitals...who have been wounded by the Israeli bullets, gas and bombs?" Arafat countered.

And the press conference ended convinced of the determination of the Palestinian leader to try and find a peaceful solution to the crisis, a solution in the interests not just of the Palestinians and Israelis, but all the peoples of the world.
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British News


Strikers force BA to back down


by Caroline Colebrook
BRITISH Airways has backed down from its threats to sack cabin staff who went on strike last week, or who reported sick. And the company is now considering taking up the offer of talks by the Transport and General Workers' Union.

And the company has demoted its leading public relations adviser just before its stormy annual meeting, in recognition that its PR tactics over the industrial dispute have been a disaster.

The three-day strike last week led to nearly 70 per cent of the company's flights from Heathrow being cancelled.

Over half the scheduled long-haul flights were cancelled, 62 per cent of European flights and all domestic flights.

Around 56 percent of the long-haul flights from Gatwick were cancelled.

It is estimated the dispute so far has cost BA some 200 million -- a lot more than the "tens of millions" admitted by company boss Bob Ayling at BA's annual meeting last week.

The company faces further strikes if it refuses to negotiate.

BA chief executive Bob Ayling had hoped to be able to report to last week's annual meeting that his attempts to intimidate the workforce had caused the strike to flop.

In fact his tactics made the workers angrier than ever. Even after the official strike finished, many workers were still reporting sick through stress.

By last Tuesday around 40 per cent of long-haul flights were still being cancelled and 25 per cent of short-hauls.

The company tried to argue that the sickness "epidemic" indicated that staff did not really want to strike -- even though they had voted overwhelmingly for this industrial action.

Last weekend BA was threatening to sue the TGWU and claiming irregularities in the strike ballot.

Now the company is waiting while the TGWU prepares an alternative plan to save the 42 million the company said it needed to cut when it imposed new pay and conditions on its cabin staff without consulting the union.

BA has said that if the TGWU's proposals are "realistic" it will enter into negotiations.

But there are concerns that this change of mood may just be put onto appease shareholders atthe annual meeting and the confrontations could begin again next week.

At the meeting Mr Ayling rejected accusations of intimidation and promised there would be no sanctions taken against those who had taken part in the strike or who had phoned in sick.

He also denied that it was his intention to de-recognise the union. But it is clear that BA, under his leadership, has planned for this dispute over a long time, recruiting scabs, training managers to step in during the expected strike -- and of course launching a well-planned campaign of intimidation, threatening to sack and sue strikers.

One employee present, Del Page, told the annual meeting that Mr Ayling is the most divisive on BA's history. Another, Robert Webster, who worked for BA for 28 years, said that Mr Ayling had brought cabin staff morale to the lowest ever.

The company dropped the PR services of Sir Tim Bell, who once helped Margaret Thatcher's rise to power and has strong links with the leadership of the Tory party.

These contacts are now deemed by BA to be "outdated" and Bell has been replaced by Brunswick, the PR firm of Alan Parker who has links with the Labour leadership. And the company is blaming Bell because it lost the media battle over the strike. But PR presentation is not the cause of BA's problems so much as its 18th century style of management techniques.

Transport unions throughout the world recognised the union-busting intent of the BA management and last week declared solidarity with the BA strikers. Planes operated by scabs would face being boycotted throughout the world.

It is clear that BA management totally misjudged the situation and the strike has cost it far more than it reckoned.

But the dispute is not yet settled and support and solidarity for the strikers is still needed.

A separate dispute between the TGWU and BA groundstaff seems nearer to settlement this week and talks are continuing between staff and management.

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