The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 19th January 2001

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Editorial - We won't pity the rich.
Lead Story - The battle to save Llanwern.
Feature - PFI danger to schools.
International - Anger erupts over Iraq sanctions.
British News - Safety inspectors reject Tube sell-off plan.
More news and Diary


We won't pity the rich

IT doesn't take Einstein to work out that those with the longest pockets will be the ones who can afford the slickest propaganda. Most of the media is funded by commercial advertising from big business and everyone knows that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

 There are of course some points of difference between the media outlets which reflect different vested interests within the capitalist class. And in general the media moguls like to give the appearance of holding independent views in order to preserve the myth ofa "free and fair" press.

 But whether they are euro-sceptic, euro-barmy, Blair-creepy or liberal-sometimes -- they all keep mum when it comes to pointing the finger at the capitalist system they all support. Alongside the politicians they come up with plenty of alternative explanations and excuses for this inhuman and crisis-ridden system.

 If capitalism really worked for the benefit of most people none of this effort would be necessary. As it is the battle of ideas has to be fought every day.

 It's not surprising that capitalism should need a daily voice. In the last few months a typical day might start with news of more dirty hospitals -- a by-product of Thatcher's introduction of compulsory competitive tendering for hospital support services -- children being sent home from school because of the teacher shortage __ a result of underfunding of the education service -uncollected rubbish in Hackney where the council is out of funds -- people suffering the misery of flood damage which, though obviously due to heavy rain is also made worse by lack of river dredging and lack of planning -- and so on.

 Then comes the journey to work on the late-running trains. And on our return to work after the New Year break we were greeted by news of a fares increase even though the service is terrible.

 There is a growing awareness that our long-neglected infrastructure is giving way. The public services have seen their budgets cut so many times that there are now areas of real squalor in the public sector and a crisis of staffing due to low pay, high housing costs and rotten working conditions.

 The political leaders simply blame one another and act as if these problems are merely matters of good or bad housekeeping. The media plays along. Old colonels write ridiculous letters about the "loss of empire", backward reactionaries blame refugees, immigrants, pensioners, lone parents, the chronically sick and disabled. All kind of nonsense is trotted out to take our eyes off the real problem -- capitalism.

 Public transport and public services are important to the working class. Those who actually own the deregulated bus companies are not usually found waiting in the bus queue and the wealthy shareholders of our privatised trains do not spend their time standing in a great squash of humanity every night and morning on the late-running "service" to workland.

 And what does it matter to the ruling capitalist class if our schools are understaffed or our hospitals short of doctors, cleaners, nurses and beds -- they send their children to Eton and Roedean and have their medical care in some private clinic with a five-star menu.

 The truth they're so desperately anxious to hide is that capitalism is driven only by the desire of capitalists to make ever Increasing profits. Yet as Karl Marx described, under capitalism there is, because of the contradictions within it, the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. Constantly the capitalists have to struggle against this -- and the only way they can do this is to step up the exploitation of the working class by cutting wages, conditions andjobs, cutting social spending and increasing productivity.

 Their rule over society is designed to protect their own narrow interests at all costs. One of their needs is to have as low a rate of income tax as possible in order to keep their money for themselves and that means less money for public services and maintaining the infrastructure.

 And out of the tax that is collected (largely from workers on PAYE) the capitalists want a large amount to be spent on weapons and war preparations to advance their overseas interests and maintain their international clout.

 Little wonder that last week's news included one story about babies being sold over the internet -- under this system we are all of us mere operatives, production units to be hired and fired, so why not bought and sold as well. When our lives are over we might bejust left on the floor somewhere if the mortuary is busy -- its all there in the capitalist way of life and death.

 Communists say - Smash capitalism - fight for socialism - fight for life, peace, and human decency!

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Lead Story

The battle to save Llanwern

by Caroline Colebrook

STEEL workers, their trade union leaders, MPs and local businesses in South Wales are uniting in a mass campaign to prevent the closure of the giant steel works at Llanwern by the steel company Corus.

 A rescue package is being drawn up to prevent the axing of the plant with the direct loss of 3,000 jobs -- and an estimated further 9,000 jobs from the knock-on effect on the local economy.

 Corus was formed just over a year ago from a merger between British Steel and the Dutch steel firm Hoogovens.

 British Steel was in deep trouble at the time from a global fall in demand for steel products.

 In particular the global car industry, which is one of the steel industry's biggest customers, is facing cut-backs everywhere because of a decline in demand and over-capacity in production.

 The British motor industry is in deep crisis, with Fords about to close its Dagenham plant in Essex and Vauxhall planning to close its Luton plant.

 There is a big question mark over the Nissan plant in Sunderland and a big battle is going on to persuade the company to build its Micra model there.

 Last year the Rover plant at Longbridge was saved from being closed by its BMW owners by a consortium bid headed by former managing director John Towers.

 Rover seems at the moment to have turned the corner but with the global market in its current state nothing is secure.

 Many of the motor manufacturers blame the strength of the pound and the failure of Britain to join the single European currency for their decisions to make their cut-backs in Britain rather than Europe.

 Corus adds that supporting its Dutch plants rather than Llanwern makes economic sense because its surviving motor industry customers are geographically closer in Europe.

 The unions point out that British labour laws make it much easier to sack workers in Britain, even though they are cheaper to employ in the first place.

 Alwyn Davies of the Wales division of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation has written to Corus, as part of a mass campaign, saying: "As a former steelworker in the industry in South Wales for some 25 years, I am well aware of the sacrifices ourmembers have made over the years in their quest to become, not only European, but world competitive in terms of productivity throughout the Corus plants in Wales.

 "Productivity has risen by some ten per cent year on year for the last ten years, figures that cannot be matched by Corus plants in Holland.

 "We applaud the announcement by the National Assembly of Wales of a package of measures worth some £20 million to help the industry in Wales."

 He concludes by calling on Corus to keep faith with the workforce in Wales.

 The Government both in Westminster and Cardiff, is trying to move heaven and earth -- and a lot of taxpayers' money -- to persuade Corus to keep Llanwern open.

 The Government is also pledging support to Nissan. Last year it gave a lot of financial backing to Rovers.

 In situations like this, governments are shown up as having little more influence than the unions with the mighty transnational companies -- who will accept whatever inducements maay be on offer from either in terms of cash, low wages, restrictive anti-union labour laws passed under the Tories but still in force -- and then pull out again in a year or so's time.

 The capitalists love it when workers in one country are competing with those in another, saying "sack them, not us, we promise to be as subservient as possible".

 In the end it does no good. When a crisis of over production comes along they all get sacked anyway. This is the nature of capitalism and why unions were formed in the firstplace, for workers to stand together and not allow bosses to play them off against each other.

 There is no answer to this madness except socialism with production planned to meet need, not to make the biggest profit. Only under socialism will new technology and increased productivity lead to reduced working hours and more leisure rather than the sack for the workforce.

 To most of our readers this is stating the obvious, but it is a lesson that needs to be re-learnt by some trade union leaders.

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PFI danger to schools

by Renee Sams

THE LONDON Borough of Tower Hamlets is now trying to persuade all its schools to accept the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) as "there is no alternative" because the council cannot provide the money needed to repair and maintain all its schools and bring them up to an acceptable standard.

 But a warning against PFI came last week from Steve Barlow from Pimlico whose school was one of the first projects to be selected for PFI.

 Pupils in Pimlico will get a brand new building but the costs will be high and there are dangers in the small print.

 Speaking at a meeting organised by the public sector union Unison with parents, teachers and school staff in Bethnal Green Library on Thursday 11 January, he warned: "if you are thinking about PFI, get a good lawyer.

 "You don't know what is going to happen in the future. Take six months to go through the fine details."

 The Pimlico school, he told the meeting, is a glass building dating from the 1970s and suffering from a variety of problems.

 The roof leaks when it rains. It is freezing cold in winier and too hot in summer.

 In 1995, the Department of Education and Employment offered the local education authority the option of £2.5 million towards the estimated £l7 million needed for repairs -- or the full capital cost of rebuilding through an enhanced Revenue Support Grant (worth some £25 million over the life of the scheme).

 The catch was that the latter option was only available under PFI and a new building thus became the only solution. It was enthusiastically championed by Jack Straw, then chair of the governors, on that basis.

 Under this scheme the school will lose one acre of its 4.5 acre site for the developer to build luxury flats which will leave only 8,000 square metres of playground space, much less than the D of EE's recommended 60,000 square metres.

 The Government insists: that everything must be "value for money". Therefore costs for PFI projects must be compared to costs of producing through public sector procurement -- the Public Sector Comparator.

 The whole deal hinges upon this, which Westminster's "preferred bidder" is insisting upon to ensure it makes maximum profit.

 But a public sector development would have to include 25 percent social or affordable housing and abide by local authority guidelines for housing density. As it turns out, Westminster council is prepared to waive its own planning policy to allow the PFI consortium to benefit to the tune of £l0 million.

 PFI schemes are supposed to be "revenue neutral". That means they should cost no more than if the work was funded by the local authority borrowing the money.

 But the experience of other schools which have accepted PFI schemes shows that this is far from the case.

 A study by University College reveals a nice little trick to help the Government. The schemes show they have all been designed to be "off balance sheet". This term means they do not show up on the Government balance sheets -- although they are of course, funded by public money.

 To make it all work, they have to ensure that the staff are transferred to the contractor. This means there is a lot of pressure to do this which in turn makes it look like "good value for money".

 In Haringey for example, PFI was claimed to be "revenue neutral" when it was approved in 1998.

 In June 2000 the council found it has underestimated the charges the contractor could levy and they had to find a further £l4 million.

 Yet another claim to persuade school governors that PFI will be good for them is that any financial risk will be transferred to the contractor. But the study reveals that this seems very unlikely to happen. Most of the money comes from borrowing from the banks, not from the contractor.

 Indeed, when PFI legislation was being introduced -- a process begun under the Tories and completed under Labour -- the private sector insisted on clauses protecting them from any financial risk.

 In the event of a contractor failing to deliver a promised service or going bankrupt, the council will still have to fork out regular payments to the finance house that lent it.

 They would probably find themselves paying twice -- both for the debt and another contractor to carry out the service. That risk does not apply to the profit made by the contractors.

 Jean Geldart, speaking for Unison members in Tower Hamlets, pointed out the dangers of the 25-year contract that the payments only cover the initial deal and additional finance will be needed to cover maintenance, repairs and improvements over that long period.

 She also pointed out that Tower Hamlet's favoured contractor is Initial Rentokil, which is the cleaning and facilities partner in Babcock and Brown's successful bid.

 Its chief executive is Sir Clive Thompson who makes no secret of his hatred of trade unions. He has compared them to the pests that Rentokil is in business to exterminate.

 Initial Rentokil has had two recent set-backs. At the Victoria Hospital, Blackpool, their contract has been terminated due to the high level of complaints received by the hospital. They also failed to honour protection for transferred staff and refused to recognise the union.

 At Wigan and Lee College, their contract has been terminated due to an unacceptable level of service and at Wigan Council they have been given 18 months to sort out problems, or the contract will be cancelled.

 They cannot fire existing staff but they can run a two-tier wage system. Any staff taken on after the start of the contract are paid at a much lower rate.

 Jean Geldart said: "That company will do its best to get rid of protected staff. This is the company that Tower Hamlets council is going to hand over our schools to."

 Recent research reveals that all private contractors doing work for the public sector operate a two-tier workforce and pay and conditions have worsened.

 No private contractor in public service offers a comparable pension scheme to its new staff. Most do not have a pension scheme at all.

 Jean Geldart called for a campaign to reject PFI schemes. "There is an alternative," she stressed. "Local authorities could provide funding if they are allowed to borrow money themselves. Our view is there is a growing movement to reject PFI, and growing campaigns around the railways and the London Underground. If we all get together we can win."

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Anger erupts over Iraq sanctions

by Renee Sams

POLICE arrested 15 people for traffic obstruction in Westminster last Tuesday after demonstrators protesting about the continuing sanctions against Iraq brought traffic to a standstill outside the Houses of Parliamentand tried to blockade St Stephen's entrance.

 The demonstration was called by Voices in the Wilderness to mark the 1Oth anniversary of the imposition of sanctions on Iraq, sanctions that are now supported only by the United States and Britain.

 "The children of Iraq are not just dying, they are being murdered," Milan Rai of Voices in the Wilderness told the demonstrators as they gathered outside Westminster Abbey.

 Milan Rai, who has only recently returned from a trip to Iraq, reported that although there has been some easing of the sanctions the improvement is only marginal.

 In Baghdad he visited a hospital which he had seen on a previous visit where, in the cardiac unit, all VDU monitors were broken.

 The consultant, who was British trained, told him that the only medicine he had to give patients was valium.

 On his most recent visit, Milan said, the monitors are still broken and the small improvement in the supply of medicines is not nearly enough.

 On his previous visit he reported that some 560,000 children are suffering from chronic malnutrition and that situation has not improved.

 There are now 800,000 children severely under-nourished which leaves them prey to many infections and other illnesses. They are taken into hospital and cured.

 But sanctions have damaged the infrastructure of Iraq so badly that there are now problems with sanitation and a shortage of clean drinking water and children returning home are in danger of further infections. They are in a vicious circle.

 Milan called for everybody to keep up the pressure on the Government to end the sanctions which are causing so much death and misery in Iraq.

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British News

Safety inspectors reject Tube sell-off plan

 Health and Safety Executive inspectors last week issued a damning  report on Government plans for the partial  privatisation of the London Underground -- giving  backing to the unions'  determined opposition to the "public-private  partnership" (PPP).

 The fears are that the fragmentation of LU will lead to a situation where chains of command and responsibility for safety will be confused -- as has happened with the break up of Brritish rail.

 The HSE inspectors made their assessment after the Tube was divided into  separate sections for "shadow running" in preparation for the private sector take over.

 The HSE condemns the Tube chiefs for failing to supply information  "regarding the evacuation of stations and little or no information on evacuation of trains".

 Other areas of concern, including train driving, signal operation and track maintenance "do not appear to have been considered in as much depth" as they should have been.

 The control systems for "significant hazards and risks are not adequately defined".

 Leading inspector Peter Hornsby said, in a letter to Tube management, of his fears over "driving, signal operation, track maintenance, assault, vandalism and trespass.

 "It is not clear who does what, how and when," he added.

  Bob Crow, assistant general secretary of the RMT rail union said the report is a "total vindication" for the strike ballot now taking place in protest at cuts in safety standards that will result from PPP.

 He said: "This report proves what we have been saying all along. We are calling for PPP to be halted.

 The RMT and the train drivers' union, Aslef, are calling for a meeting with Transport Minister Lord MacDonald and the HSE.

 Aslef general secretary Mick Pix said: "Our members and passengers  will be horrified that the rail inspectorate has refused to accept London Underground's safety plans.

 "But we are also appalled that the rail inspectorate have breached their own procedures and are not demanding that LU resubmit their safety proposals.

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