The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 19th November, 1999

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Editorial - Who asked you?
Lead Story - New blows to civil liberties.
Feature - Labour attacks help for the homeless.
International - A hairs breadth from breaking 19-month Irish peace impasse.
British News - NHS funding crisis.


Who asked you?

AS we go to press we still don't know if Ken Livingstone will be allowed to get into the starting blocks for the London Mayoral race -- despite his popularity with London voters.

 It seems ludicrous that such a long-serving and well known London MP should have to go through drawn-out Party inquisition in order to be included in Labour's shortlist. Ludicrous it may be, surprising it is not. We all know that Livingstone is getting a rough ride mainly because of his stated commitment to oppose privatisation of the London Underground including the proposed private-public partnership scheme.

 On the issue of privatisation the Blairites are determined to have their way -- or rather the way of the City of London and big business.

 What the rest of us want is quite another matter. The government simply averts its eyes from recent polls showing that over 70 per cent of the people want the railways to be renationalised.

 But then capitalist democracy is just that -- a system of government created by capitalism to look after the interests of the ruling capitalist class. Wars are launched without so much as a vote in the House of Commons. Crimes are committed in our name -- like the cruel sanctions against Iraq -- which we did not ask for.

 Yet this system is elevated as the finest thing in the world -- a way of doing things that other countries are urged to follow. Countries which don't conform risk punishment and even war by the leading "democracies".

 The United States actually stated that the purpose of continuing its blockade of Cuba is to encourage that country to adopt a "democratic" form of government.

 What a lie! What a cheek! The United States is a country where presidential elections are fought out between two or three multi-millionaires. The two dominant parties both represent big business interests -- though not always the same businesses. Most of the people either don't or can't vote.

 Whoever wins the political beauty contest the outcome is always the same -- a rich cat in the Oval Office and a few hundred more sharks, hustlers and capitalist crawlers in the corridors of Washington.

 In Cuba on the other hand the elected representatives of the people continue to live and work alongside those who voted for them -- there's no gravy train for them. And they can be recalled if the voters are not satisfied.

 Of course the United States, Britain and the rest don't judge democracy by how well it serves the majority of the people. They judge it by how much opportunity it gives for capitalism. By this yardstick, Cuba, like the other sociaIist countries, is denounced as a dictatorship.

 What the Western leaders want is multi-party elections. That doesn't mean simply having several parties -- many socialist countries have this anyway -- it means allowing capitalist restoration parties to stand. They hope that with the help of secret western funding for such parties and plenty of lying propaganda a beach-head for counter-revolution could be created.

 This is not what the majority of the people want or need. For workers to want Parties that aim to eventually lock them into a system based on the exploitation of labour would be like turkeys voting for an early Christmas.

 Certainly Cuba and the other socialist countries are not, and would not claim to be utopias. Indeed how could countries that have been subjected to wars, threats, sanctions and blockades over many years be free from problems and difficulties?

 And yet despite all they have endured they stand out as beacons in the darkness all around them.

 The counter-revolution in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe has demonstrated to the world that the restoration of capitalism and its much praised system of democracy has thrown millions and millions of people into poverty, fear, war, and despair.

 If Cuba took any heed of its rich imperialist neighbour it would only be a matter of time before it shared the same social problems as poverty-stricken Haiti.

 The majority of the people throughout the world need the hope that only socialism can bring and the rule of the majority -- the working class. This is as true for the people of London as it is for the people of Havana. The time for change is now!

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Lead Story

New blows to civil liberties

By Daphne Liddle

THE QUEEN'S speech delivered last Wednesday announced 28 Bills and few surprises but did contain a lot of tightenin g of the screws of the bourgeois state to further limit our dwindling civil liberties.

 Perhaps the most worrying of these is a bill to transfer the Prevention of Terrorism Act -- originally designated a temporary emergency measure in 1975 but renewed regularly ever since -- into permanent law.

 This is described as a tidying up measure but will actually considerably widen the scope of the PTA to encompass political, environmental and religious activists.

 It comes at a time when the Irish peace process means there has been virtually no form of violent political activity in Britain for several years and little prospect of any.

 The logic behind the setting up of the PTA in the first place should now demand its complete repeal. But it always was really a measure of class oppression and its widening now suggests an intensifying of the class war.

 The definition of terrorism is to be widened to: "The use of serious violence against persons or property. or the threat to use such violence to intimidate or coerce the government, the public or any section of it for political, religious or ideological grounds."

 The new Bill will also outlaw "incitement" by foreign dissidents based in Britain which could affect exile communities such as the Kurds.

 It will make it an offence to be "connected with" terrorism which could be open to almost any interpretation.

 There will be a Bill for privacy in communications to cover electronic communications and a Freedom of information Bill.

 These are both contradicted by the wider electronic surveillance powers to be given to police and intelligence services in the PTA and so are unlikely to be anything other than cosmetic.

 A new Criminal Justice Bill will Limit the right to trial by jury, giving magistrates the decisions as to whether a case should be referred to a higher court.

 It will also "shake up" the probation service, allow for the compulsory drugs testing of all arrested suspects.

 Young offenders who do not comply with court orders will face losing their benefits. The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders has already pointed out that this could leave youngsters with no option but to steal or beg in order to survive and actually force them into re-offending.

 There will be a race relations Bill to include police and other public servants within its remit, outlawing treating anyone differently on account of their race or ethnic origin.

 But the Council for Racial Equality said the Bill does not go far enough in eradicating institutionalised racism and is a let down after the recommendations of the McPherson Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

 There will be a Bill to reform the Royal Ulster Constabulary but whether it fully complies with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement is yet to be seen.

 The proposed Transport Bill is probably going to be the most controversial, allowing local authorities powers to charge private cars for entering cities and for parking at work. There will also be charges for using some trunk roads.

 The Government has pledged that money raised will go to improving public transport but as long as that transport is privatised, the government -- either national or local -- will have few powers to ensure improvements are properly implemented.

 Drastic measures to reduce traffic congestion are necessary. As a spokesperson for the pressure group Transport 2000 said: "If traffic continues to expand at the current rate over the next 15 to 20 years, the freedom to drive will simply mean the freedom to chose which traffic jam to sit in."

 And the Government could have used the carrot as well as the stick. It could have given tax breaks to those employers who supply their workforce with travel cards or season tickets. There will be a Bill for the partial privatisation of air traffic control. After the dangerous fiasco of rail privatisation this measure is very scary. It is a measure that should be strongly opposed.

 There will be a Post Office Bill to change it to a state-owned PLC and an Electronic Commerce Bill to protect internet transactions.

 The age of consent for gays will be equalised at 16 with that of hetero-sexuals and it will be an offence for anyone to abuse a position of trust to have sex with anyone under 18.

 The Right to Roam Bill will be introduced giving walkers more access to the countryside.

There will be Bills on Social Services and Welfare, setting up an independent inspectorate of children's and elderly people's residential homes.

 There will be changes to the Child Support Agency which has been a fiasco since it was founded by the Tories to try to recoup some of the benefits paid to single parents from the absent parent.

 And there will be reforms of pensions. Alas this is not the hoped-for restoration of the link between the basic state pension and average earnings -- as announced the day before in the "Alternative Queen's Speech" -- but measures to try to compel us all to take out risky private pensions or face an old age in destitution.

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Labour attacks help for the homeless

by Caroline Colebrook

THE HEAD of the government's Rough Sleepers' Unit, Louise Casey, last weekend provoked outrage among the homeless and those trying to help them by accusing them of perpetuating the problem.

 She even suggested that being homeless was desirable because of all the soup runs and because you could get better quality sleeping bags given to you than are available in the best camping shops.

 She said: "There is a plethora of services on the streets. You can get a better sleeping bag on the Strand than you can buy in the camping shop Blacks."

 Ms Casey said: "With soup runs and other kinds of charity help, well-meaning people are spending money servicing the problem on the streets and keeping it there.

 "Even the Big Issue is perpetuating the problem.

 "Where there is help inside, people should not take their help on to the streets."

 There is a curious echo in this of the Victorian attitude to helping the poor. The destitute were expected to apply for entry into workhouses, which were deliberately made as awful as possible to discourage all but the most desperate.

 Giving any kind of outdoor relief was frowned on as encouraging the poor to remain idle.

 Louise Casey seems to think along the same lines and is almost certainly voicing the views of the Blair government.

 She says that more attention needs to be given to long-term strategies to get people off the streets permanently and neither the homeless nor any of the organisations trying to help them would disagree with this.

 Ms Casey said her views were backed by many in the voluntary sector.


 "The context was that we want to see an end to the soup runs and short-term services. We want charities to provide services indoors. That is something the charities agree with us on."

 But she ignores the main causes o fhomelessness: the shortage of affordable accommodation; the withdrawal of benefits by the Thatcher government to those between 16 and 18 and the many cuts in eligibility for housing benefit.

 Also there is introduction of care in the community policies that has seen many people with mental health problems and drink and drug problems left to fend for themselves and ending up on the streets.

 Organisations like Shelter and the Big Issue have worked for many years to get the homeless off the streets and give them a way of supporting themselves in affordable homes.

 This is sometimes a long and difficult process even if affordable accommodation can be found. Those with mental health problems need a lot of support if they are not to end up back on the streets very quickly.

 Shelter director Chris Holmes said: "It is completely unacceptable to have even 2,000 people on the streets.

 "We have to recognise that these people have multiple problems and handouts or the key to a council house are not always the answer."

 And there is a constant stream of new homeless arriving on the streets all the time.

 Justa few weeks ago the Simon Community reported a dramatic rise in young people arriving at shelters and hostels in search of emergency accommodation.

 It found that on a typical night the numbers looking for emergency beds in London outnumbered the beds available by 23 to one.

 Another recent report from the Children's Society showed that the numbers running away from home is double what previously thought, with more than 100,000 a year spending a night or more away from home or care without permission.

 The homeless themselves were horrified by Ms Casey's remarks. One 35-year-old who has Lived on the streets of Soho for two and a half years, said that Louise Casey's comments were "stupid".

 "Most homeless people who rely on soup kitchens and handouts are those with mental health problems who are barely organised enough to collect their giros," he said. "If they lose this support they won't survive".

 Another said: "I hate this life. But charities make it possible to survive, to get meals and to stop freezing to death.

 "I don't beg so if it wasn't for the soup runs I wouldn't get an evening meal.

 "Day centres are a good idea. They give you a chance to have a shower and just sit somewhere warm.

 "I think there need to be more hostels and a scheme which allows you to get on council house lists."

 One pointed out: "If homelesspeople can't rely on charities they will turn to crime and shoplifting in order to survive."

 And a homeless man in Leeds commented: "They're not encouraging us to sleep rough. They're keeping us alive when there's nothing else we can do."

 The Big Issue reacted angrily to Ms Casey's accusations, pointing out: "The Big Issue gives people access to a legitimate income as an alternative to begging.

 "Many ofour sellers don't even live on the streets but in hideous hostels and bed and breakfasts."

 Jenny Backwell of Brighten Housing Trust said the new policies of the government "homeless tsar" indicated a worryingly brutal trend.

 She said: "There is a growing feeling that the voluntary sector is causing the problem and is adding to the growing tolerance of homelessness culture when we are the only people who are there to help.

 "This is completely unacceptable in a civilised society."

 Meanwhile homeless London families now face being relocated as far away as Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham because local authorities cannot afford to accommodate them in London. London house prices have risen 53 per cent in the last year.

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A hairs breadth from breaking 19-month Irish peace impasse

by Steve Lawton

ELEVEN weeks of intense and carefully calculated talks in the Mitchell review stage of the Irish peace process, has brought the key participants the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Sinn Fein - within a hairs breadth of overcoming the 19-month impasse.

 A statement issued by the Irish republican Army, as we went to press, reaffirming full backing for the Good Friday Agreement -- bar a few dissident voices -- has been met with widespread approval.

 Both nationalists and republicans, unionists and loyahsts have responded positively to this latest and crucial move to overcome unionist objections. Irish Premier Bertie Ahern said it had "very real value at this critical time."

 And that has hinged all along on the Unionist insistence that the IRA decommission its weapons before Sinn Fein takes ministerial office in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

 The IRA statement said: "The IRA is willing to further enhance the peace process and consequently, following the establishment of the institutions agreed on Good Friday last year, the IRA leadership will appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John de Chestelain and the Independent International Commission on Decommisioning."

 Michael McGimpsey and Ken Maginnis, both senior UUP strategists, felt it was a significant step forward. McGimpsey: "We may be in business here"; Maginnis: "We have made some progress".

 Hardline unionist Peter Robinson, however, was unpersuaded because the statement said nothing about guaranteeing handover of guns. Yet of course, Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) has already been appointed by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) to the decommissioning body.

 And it is clear from both the Sinn Fein and UUP statements published Wednesday, that a greater degree of minds meeting in agreement rather than in collision is implied in them. Some elements are almost interchangeable.

 Sinn Fein said: "There is no doubt that we are entering into the final stages of the resolution of the conflict." The IRA has maintained a ceasefire for four years, it said, and its commitment to the process was undoubted.

 It said the two Sinn Fein ministers, in office, would pledge themselves to "maintain a commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means." The statement recognised, as did the UUP's, that there had been enough suffering.

 The UUP declared: "The UUP recognises and accepts that it is legitimate for nationalists to pursue their political objective of a united Ireland by consent through exclusively peaceful and democratic methods."

 The UUP said the way would be open for the establishment of institutions if there was a meaningful response to de Chastelain's statement.

 The IRA's statement follows the review facilitator Senator George Mitchell's first major break in the silence of past months. Last Monday he dedared that "the parties have engaged in an unprecedented manner.

 He said: "I believe that the parties now understand each other's concerns and requirements far better than before and are committed to resolving the current impasse."

 The Senator was "increasingly confident" that "common ground" on both the setting up of institutions and the process of decommissioning now existed.

 He had therefore "asked that the assessment on which the [de Chastelain] commission has been working, be made public promptly and the parties give their views on that report."

 The next day he said the parties to the process should "make public their positions as they have developed during this review". He concluded: "Shortly after these further steps are taken I hope to be in a position to issue a final report on the review."

 General John de Chastelain, in his statement said that the Good Friday Agreement deadline for decommissioning had seven months left to run. Despite difficulties, he said, "the contributions of those on ceasefire over what is now a protracted period is itself significant."

 He said the "process of decommissioning" now required the "appointment by paramilitary organisations of authorised representatives" to liaise with the commission. The IRA statement now makes this commitment.

 As we go to press, all parties are on standby for a possible late night plenary (yesterday- Thursday), prior to de Chastelain's report being delivered today.

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British News

NHS funding crisis

DOCTORS' leaders last week called for a fundamental review of NHS funding if it is to deliver a full service of up to date treatments for priority conditions such as cancer and health disease.

 They were reacting to the news that the NHS is now running into severe financial deficit.

 The debt for this year is already £200 million and last May the National Audit Office revealed an accumulated underlying deficit of £717 million -- putting the total liabilities by the end of this year at around £1 billion.

 The British Medical Association says this is undermining the NHS's ability to deliver high quality service in all areas.

 It says it is time to bite the bullet and find out what the public wants the NHS to spend its limited money on.

 Already many patients are being hit by drug rationing according to a report given to the House of Commons last week. And it is the lower income patients who, as usual, suffer the most.

 Speaking for the Liberal Democrats, Evan Harris MP said: "When we talk about rationing of NHS treatments we aren't saying no one has them.

poor: no treatment

 "What we are saying is that they aren't available to poor people. The rich and those who can afford it can get these treatments privately."

 But neither doctors nor the public should be faced with such an impossible choice while the Government is still giving away new tax breaks to the rich and is able to spend millions, if not bilLions, bombing countries like Iraq and Yugoslavia.

 There is no good reason why this country should not have a properly funded NHS able to deliver according to the needs of all patients.

 But if the NHS budget does have to be spent more efficiently, the nationalisation of the big drug companies, cutting back on their profit bonanza at the expense of NHS patients, would be a good place to start.

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