The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 18th September, 1998

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Editorial - Clintongate.
Lead Story - Unions say no to PFI.
Feature - Blair targets "sink estates" - with backdoor privatisation.
International - Primakov gets PM job.
British News - "Sorry about the rate".



 THE surprising news to come out of the United States in recent days is not so much Kenneth Starr's report of President Clinton's adulterous activities but the way Clinton's public opinion poll ratings have held up. After all, the millions of largely church-going American citizens must surely disapprove of the President's lying and cheating and his sexual antics in the White House.

 And yet it is possible that Clinton could manage to survive despite the revelations and public humiliation. It seems many Americans dislike the Republican tactics in the campaign against Clinton and are fearful that a Republican resurgence would bring back the kind of full frontal attack on welfare and social spending that a few years ago was pushed by the likes of Newt Gingrich.

 At the start of his term of office Clinton did try to bring in reforms of the health system and to carry out other election promises. And though he stepped back from these early policies when the Republican-dominated Congress piled on the pressure, he is still seen by many poor Americans as a safer President than a low-taxation, zero spending Republican one.

 On both sides there is an awareness that the global slowdown -- or full-blown recession -- is looming and is likely to hit the US economy in the coming months.

 The US ruling class will respond by tougher measures against workers and tighter controls of public spending. The leading section of the US ruling capitalist class will want a President totally committed to the interests of big business at the expense of the working class -- Clinton, they figure, may be susceptible to pro-welfare lobbyists and therefore needs to be either got rid of or sufficiently weakened to be kept as a political hostage in the White House.

 Of course the differences between the Democrats and Republicans are only relative and marginal. Progressive Americans will also rightly point out that both are bourgeois parties which stand shoulder to shoulder on many domestic issues and virtually all aspects of defence and foreign policy.

 That is why horrendous crimes, such as the murder of millions of Iraqis by war and sanctions, are not even mentioned by those wanting to see Clinton impeached -- the politicians of both major parties see nothing wrong in Clinton's murderous assaults on the peoples of the Third World. The recent missile attacks against Sudan and Afghanistan were applauded on both sides of the US Congress.

A Republican President would have endorsed all of these crimes. And so we see this irony of a mass murderer being pursued through the US legal system for having extra-marital sex and lying about it -- a bit like doing Jack the Ripper for shoplifting.

 The confused thinking that sees little wrong with policies that kill innocent Iraqi children and accepts the destruction of a much needed medical plant in a poor African state is not peculiar to Americans -- it thrives in all the imperialist heartlands, including Britain.

 In these countries people are encouraged to regard foreign and military policies as separate from the day-to-day issues at home. We are taught to accept ruling class arguments that foreign ventures which favour British big business will also be of benefit, in a filtered-down form, to everybody. It is referred to as "the national interest" and is sanitised by a lot of breast-beating rubbish about "defending freedom, democracy and civilisation".

 Hidden from view is the reality that imperialist policies and military campaigns are in fact the class struggle being waged at an international level. And just as the working class needs to stand together in solidarity in the class struggle at home, so it does internationally.

 Any success for the capitalist class, whether at home or abroad, is a setback for the working class in all countries, and the victories of working people are also victories for all workers everywhere.

 Clinton, as an imperialist leader who serves the interests of US capital throughout the world is therefore no friend to the American working class. Of course the Republicans are no better -- chances are they would be an even worse prospect for the millions of poor Americans whose "American dream" is already a capitalist nightmare.

 The people of the US, like the majority of the peoples of the world, deserve better than shabby politicians, murderous leaders and the ruthless brutality of capitalism. We shall overcome and we shall bring the nightmare of capitalism to an end. In its place we shall build socialist societies that will give humanity its only chance of peace and progress.

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Lead Story

Unions say no to PFI

by Daphne Liddle
THE TRADES Union Congress annual conference in Blackpool last week voted overwhelmingly against the government using the Private Finance Initiative as a method of funding public facilities.

 The composite motion condemning PFI was moved by the Association of Magisterial Officers but it had the support of giant unions Unison and GMB whose members have been greatly affected by PFI.

 Many other smaller unions also spoke up about their members' experiences with PFI. These included physiotherapists, the Prison Officers' Association and others whose jobs have been threatened with being transferred to the private sector by PFI.

 Robert Parker of the GMB (Scotland) pointed out that PFI and "best practice" -- the government's favourite term for urging local authorities to get value for money -- were incompatible.

 He said: "PFI is being offered as the only route to get things funded. But the higher borrowing costs and the need to make profits make it much more expensive than the old way of raising money by public sector borrowing.

 He pointed out that PFI deals, whereby the ownership of hospitals, schools and so on is transferred to the private finance companies which are leased back by the public sector means that thousands of public sector workers will see their jobs privatised.

 The cooks, cleaners, maintenance staff and administrators will now be employed by the finance companies, who will be looking to make profits by cutting jobs, wages and conditions.

 Dave Prentice from Unison answered critics who say that PFI is the only way to get finance: "Of course we want to modernise, to build hospitals, schools and so on. But PFI is not the answer.

 "It divides the workforce. We can't assess it's value for money because the deals are all done in secret."

 He reminded Congress that Health Secretary Frank Dobson has said we need more hospital beds. "Yet the first wave of PFI hospital deals has led to 3,700 beds being cut."

 "He told us that NHS staff are its greatest asset. Now it seems some are worth more than others. Some will have their jobs held in the NHS and some will be sold off to the private sector."

 Several delegates made the point that PFI is a left over policy from a discredited Tory government and they have no intention of trying to implement it.

 The general council of the TUC tried to dilute the motion by putting forward at the same time a statement accepting that PFI was more or less a part of modern life that had to be put up with but deploring it when it threatened jobs.

 This let the general council off the hook about actually doing anything about PFI while the resolution called for TUC general secretary John Monks to press the government to drop PFI completely.

 When it came to voting it was clear that the motion had been passed on a card vote. But the status of voting on the general council statement is not clear as we go to press.

 But the vote will send a clear message to the government that the vast majority of public sector workers who are supposed to work with and implement PFI deals are opposed to them.

 And as the physiotherapists' delegate pointed out, so far there has not been a single PFI success story.

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Blair targets "sink estates" - with backdoor privatisation
by Caroline Colebrook
 PRIME MINISTER Tony Blair last Monday announced a new government initiative to improve the worst and most neglected housing estates. But he neglected to mention where the finance will be coming from.

 He says this will be part of the work of the Social Exclusion Unit to improve life for some of Britain's poorest communities and will involve the local communilies in planning new and better housing and other facilities.

 And £8OO million has been allocated to tackle a range of problems ranging from bad housing to education and crime.

 The scheme will tackle 17 "pathfinder" districts. Some have been designated "sinking ships" -- too far gone to be rescued -- that will be demolished.

 Mr Blair said: "It's the people that count not the buildings. Some are beyond rescue and will never be places where people want to live.

 "That could mean moving people to new homes, levelling the site and using the land for something the public wants."

 On Monday he visited Hackney and one of the worst estates, due for demolition and another estate that has already undergone the treatment.

 An investment of £97 million has resulted in a demolition and rebuilding programme.

 The Dalston estate was built in the 60s to provide 1,145 homes with 16 five-storey "snake blocks" linked by a mile-long continuous corridor.

 This winding corridor became a haunt of muggers, burglars, drug takers and other anti-social individuals.

badly built

 The homes were badly built and became infested with red pharaoh ants and cockroaches.

 Tony Blair's announcement has won a lot of publicity throughout the media but when looked at in the total context of what is needed to renovate housing in this country, it is very small beer.

 The government is investing just £800 million in 17 estates. Yet there are thousands of estates in a desperate state of disrepair.

 Around five million households are accommodated in either council or housing association homes. And the estimate of the maintenance backlog on these ranges from £10 to £20 billion, according to a report published on Monday.

 And for this, the government is pushing councils to seek funding from the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

 In fact it would seem that while Tony Blair was announcing the government's new generosity towards these 17 estates, local government minister Hilary Armstrong was telling a conference on PFI that she would review responses to the report and then develop "pathfinder projects".

 The existing mechanisms for the privatisation of council estates, such as voluntary transfer, have not been working well because most tenants are wise enough to reject the move which will put their rent levels and security of tenure at the mercy of market forces.

 And the big finance companies behind PFI schemes seem reluctant to take on the management of "difficult" estates with multiple social problems.

 So new mechanisms are being thought up. Now there are to be PFI "partnerships" with local authorities that would leave the management of "difficult" estates with the local authorities.

 But the ownership, as with other PFI schemes, would almost certainly end up in private hands, with the local authority renting the estates from the big finance companies in order to sub-let them to the tenants.

 Ms Armstrong said that some 66 local government PFI schemes have already been endorsed, covering a range of services including schools, leisure facilities, waste management, police stations and information technology.

 The estates desperately need renovation and repair. But doing this through PFI will multiply the costs in the long term several times over -- and leave ownership and control in private hands.

 And it will not solve the problems of poverty and crime -only morejobs with better wages can do that.

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Primakov gets PM job

YEVGENY PRIMAKOV was endorsed as prime minister of Russia last weekend ending a constitutional crisis which had paralysed the government for two weeks while the economy plunged into meltdown following the 50 per cent devaluation of the rouble.

 The crisis ended suddenly with President Boris Yeltsin's acceptance that his own nominee, Viktor Chemomyrdin, was never going to win endorsement in the Duma, the Russian parliament.

 Primakov, who commanded the support of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) Duma bloc and most of the other parliamentary opposition, was the only option apart from going to the polls -- which even Yeltsin's followers realise would be difficult to rig given the colossal unpopularity of the President and the parties he favoured.

 Yeltsin, whose drink problem is getting worse, was forced to retreat -- though he may hope that his concessions will stave off moves to impeach him over the devaluation scandal.

 Yevgeny Primakov was born in Kiev in 1929 and graduated from the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies in 1953. A Soviet Arabist who speaks Arabic and English fluently, he held a variety of senior diplomatic posts in the Soviet Union, appointed director of the Central Intelligence Service of the USSR in November 1991 in its last days.

Primakov has been Russian foreign minister since January 1996 and made a name for himself during the mediation efforts to avoid another Gulf War when the Iraq crisis blew up again.

 Primakov has moved quickly to reward his supporters in the parliamentary communist camp. CPRF deputy leader Yuri Maslyukov has been made first deputy premier. Another leading member of the CPRF, Viktor Gerashchenko now heads the Central Bank. Others may come later though the new premier stressed that this was due to their professional skills and not simply a pay-back for getting their votes.

 CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov however was not happy at the elevation of Alexander Shokhin, the man Zyuganov said had squandered the entire treasury when he was last in high office. Zyuganov sees the Primakov government as his big chance to promote his party, one way or the other, ahead of the next elections. But Primakov has uneasy days ahead.

meaningless slogans

 His first public comments reflected the meaningless slogans of the Zyuganov camp. The government must do everything to continue the "reforms", Primakov vowed, while adding that "it is necessary to correct some mistakes made in the past."

 "A consitent policy of reforms will be guaranteed. We are part of the world economy, Primakov noted "It should be a socially orientated economy. We must remember that even during the transition to a free market to an effective economy, everything must serve the people."

 But as all Russia's working people know, everything in the past has served only the handful of spivs, racketeers, druglords and Russian mafia barons -- mainly corrupt former top communist officials from the old days -- who have made millions out of the counter-revolution.

 The genuine communist resistance has no confidence in the ability of Primakov or the parliamentary "communists" to serve the people. Nina Andreyeva's All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) made this clear over the weekend, though they concede that any change is better than having yet another government of Yeltsin place-men.

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British News

"Sorry about the rate".
by Daphne Liddle

TRADE union leaders at last week's TUC conference in Blackpool condemned the low level set for the minimum wage -- £3.60 an hour -- and the even lower level for workers between 18 and 22 -- just £3 an hour. Those between 16 and 18 are not covered.

 Transport and General workers' Union general secretary Bill Morris said the verdict was: "Thanks for the principle. Sorry about the rate!"

 He said: "£3.60 will do nothing to end poverty in the workplace. Tax payers will still be subsidising bad employers through the benefits system."

 And he said the negotiations were "unfinished business".The TUC is calling for the rate to be fixed at half median male earnings: £4.61 but the TGWU policy is to aim for £5 an hour to lift workers out of the poverty trap.

 And for young workers, he said: "At the age of 18, if you're doing the job, you should get the rate."

 He stopped short of admitting that a low minimum wage can do more harm than good. But he did warn: "This minimum wage cannot be allowed to become the norm. There is no substitute for collective bargaining. This is just a first step."

 Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of the giant public sector union Unison, defied Tony Blair, the TUC conference chair person John Edmonds, himself and "anyone else in this hall, to live for a week, six months, let alone a lifetime, on £3.60 an hour without experiencing real, severe poverty.

 "A rate of £3.60 before stoppages cannot be fair. It cannot be an acceptable level. It is not enough for food, clothing, rent. Not enough for a night out or to give the kids a treat."

 And on the lower rate for young workers, he said: "We are short-changing the future. Does housing cost any less because you're young? Does food cost less?"

 "It's an old principle of trade unionism that if you're 61 or 21, if you're doing thejob, you should get the rate for the job."

 This debate was all the more pointed coming a day after John Edmonds had condemned bosses who award themselves high rises as "greedy bastards" and said executive pay had become the "politics of the pig trough" phrases which captured headlines throughout the media.

 Mr Edmonds said: "A company director who takes a pay rise of £50,000 when the rest of the workforce is getting a few hundred is not part of some general trend. He is a greedy bastard."

 "We have little chance of creating a fair society unless we insist that people with great power act with a similar level of responsibility."

 Alas a lot of the debate was on that level -- seeking a legendary and unspecified "fair society" through "partnerships" with bosses, financiers and government like sheep seeking a fair society through partnerships with a pack of wolves.

It was in this spirit that Governor of the Bank ofEngland Eddie George had been asked to speak to the conference and gave them a lecture based on the discredited theories of neo-classical economism. If Eddie George's ideas on economics had any validity, half the world would not be in the economic crisis that it is in.

 The debate on the European Union and the single currency was full of this wishful thinking and "partnerships". But one or two speakers threw in a note of caution.

 Bill Morris called for the TUC to be reconvened before a national referendum on joining the single currency to have a proper debate on exactly how the change would affect jobs, wages, public spending and so on.

 "It may just be that the single currency and protecting jobs are not compatible," he warned, "and if you thought Eddie George was bad, wait till you meet the European Central bank -- at least we know his name."

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