The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 19th June, 1998

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Editorial - Turning the screw.
Lead Story - NATO war plans menace Balkans.
Feature - Brown to continue Tory privatisation.
International - Ethiopia and Eritrea halt air war.
British News - Unions to give battle over minimum wage.


Turning the screw

BANK of England Governor Eddie George warned last week that inflation is up, the economy is showing signs of over-heating and that to put this right a further rise in interest rates is on the cards.

 This means yet another hike in mortgage rates, greater hardship for working people with debts to repay and further difficulties for small and medium sized businesses.

 As usual, the mention of the word "inflation" sets off a chorus of demands from the bosses, backed by City pundits and politicians -- all calling for more wage restraint.

 And when it comes to attacks on wages it is those on low incomes who get the biggest dose of medicine. The Chancellor has already announced pay curbs for public sector workers, who have already suffered years of wage restraint, and we now know that the much debated National Minimum Wage is likely to be considerably lower than the figures bandied about before the general election.

 This reality underlines the vital necessity of winning the fight for the right of all workers to belong to a trade union, for workers to join an appropriate trade union, to play an active part within it and for the unions themselves to step up the fight for pay and conditions.

 The wages fight, which is the frontline of working class struggle, cannot and must not be abandoned and replaced with a vague hope that a Labour government will somehow see us right.

 It has also been seen in the past week or so that very low paid workers, such as people employed in the catering industry -- who it was hoped would benefit most from the National Minimum Wage -- could end up with their small pay rise being snatched away again as the bosses effectively put their hands in the workers' pockets and take their tips. This sort of disgraceful practice would never be tolerated by trade union negotiators dealing directly with the bosses.

 Meanwhile the wealthy capitalists (many of whom can be seen this week poncing around in fancy dress at Ascot) will directly benefit from any savings in labour costs that are made from the squeeze on workers' pay. After all the money saved just stays in the bosses' bank accounts -- it's not going into some giant public purse for the benefit of the country as a whole.

 In the same week we are threatened with more wage restraint the partners in the Goldman Sachs merchant bank walked off with multi-million pound bonuses following the bank's recent public flotation. It seems that when millions of pounds pour into the pockets of the rich it does no harm to the economy at all. But if nurses were to be paid a few more quid a week the economy would blow its top.

 Of course we have heard and seen all this stuff countless times before. The economic medicine we are dosed with never cures the disease. The government never turns around a few weeks or months later to reverse all the harsh measures the working class has been made to suffer. For the worldng class, good times are always around the corner -- they never quite arrive.

 Cuts in public services go on year in year out -- nothing is ever restored. Wages are held down or cut yet no employer makes good these losses when business is booming. And, despite all the financial adjustments and sacrifices, it's not long before the capitalist system is once again being rocked by the effects of its deepening crisis and another recession casting its shadow over us.

 We began this decade with a recession that brought high levels of unemployment and hardship. It looks as if we shall end the decade in a recession too.

 It is nonsense for the politicians to pretend these ills are due to workers' being paid too much or because the government has spent too much on providing public services and benefits. The threat of recession is global and stems from the system of capitalism itself with all its contradictions and crises.

 The severe crisis in the capitalist countries of Asia only adds to the general crisis of capitalism. But for all the severity of the crisis, the world's biggest capitalists know they will continue to flourish so long as they can increase the exploitation of the world's workers and poor. They'll be fine so long as millions languish on the dole, those in work do more for less pay and social provision is cut even more savagely.

 We should pay no heed to their calls for restraint. We need instead to fight on for our rights and the just demands of the working class. Above all we need to fight to end the system of capitalism that is the scourge of our planet.

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Lead Story

NATO war plans menace Balkans.

THE THREAT of a new Nato war in the Balkans receded slightly with the news from the Kremlin that the Yugoslav government had agreed to fresh talks with leaders of their Albanian minority. But Western intervention could still be on the cards following a massive demonstration of Nato air-power last Monday.

 Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevich agreed to hold talks with the Kosovan Albanian nationalist leaders following a crisis meeting with Boris Yeltsin in Moscow. But the Yugoslav leader said he would not withdraw federal troops from the Serbian province nor would he talk to the rebel "Kosovo Liberation Army" responsible for attacks on the police and those they consider to be collaborators with the Serbian administration.

 Though the statement was welcomed in the White House, Washington continues to demand the complete withdrawal of all Yugoslav army units from Kosovo and grant full autonomy to the province. This is being dutifully echoed in Whitehall by a Blair government eager to back any move which furthers the extension of Nato power in the Balkans.

 In Moscow Russian President Boris Yeltsin has tried to play the role of honest broker in the Balkans -- under pressure from the communist and nationalist block in his parliament, the Duma, to show solidarity with the Yugoslavs. But his role, as usual, has merely been to act as Nato's errand-boy.

gun-boat diplomacy

 On Monday a total of 83 Nato war-planes including RAF Harriers paraded along the Yugoslav frontier in a demonstration of force against Yugoslavia. For five hours the jets carried out exercises over Albania and Macedonia to intimidate the Yugoslavs and impress their puppet politicians in Albania.

 American commander, General Michael Short, boasted that Operation "Determined Falcon" had demonstrated Nato's ability "to mass power where it's needed and to project it rapidly". Every Nato member took part in this new version of gun-boat diplomacy, except Canada, which didn't have enough time to mobilise their forces, and Luxemburg and Iceland -- which don't have air forces.

 The threats, led by Anglo-American imperialism, are real enough. Last week Foreign Minister Robin Cook warned Yugoslavia to do as it's told -- or else.

 "President Milosevich is now on his last warning. He would be making a heavy mistake if he imagined the international community will be as slow to respond as it was during the unfolding tragedy in Bosnia." he declared.

 Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova. in London for talks with the British government and the Balkan "Contact Group", was assured of British support. Though Cook stressed that this would stop short of backing full independence for the province.

CIA emigre army

 Thousands of Albanian refugees are fleeing to Macedonia and Albania as the fighting intensifies between Yugoslav army and police units and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)- a shadowy organisation which came to the fore this year when it launched a guerrilla war against the Yugoslav administration and the Serb minority in this predominantly Albanian province.

 In Belgrade there is little doubt that the KLA is being armed by the Albanian regime and ultimately funded by the West. According to the New York Times, most of the KLA 's gunmen come from Germany -- where they were born -- and most speak only German, not Albanian. Most are descendants of Albanian emigres.

 The Washington Post revealed that all the funds for the KLA come from abroad, mainly the United States, raised by anti-communist Albanian emigre groups, long supported by the CIA and the other instruments of the American intelligence service.

CIA funding

 According to the Washington Post some four million dollars has been openly sent to the KLA from Albanian emigre groups in the States, not to mention the "cash carried in suitcases" that hasn't been declared. And it's all been done with the blessing of the US government.

new war threat

 The European Union leaders, meeting in Cardiff, are moving to impose a new blockade against Yugoslavia starting with the banning of Yugoslav airlines throughout their territory. Ominously, they also welcomed plans for military intervention "including those which may require an authorisation by the UN Security Council".

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Brown to continue Tory privatisation.
by Caroline Colebrook
CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown last week shook the left wing of the Labour Party when he announced a series of further privatisations to raise cash.

 He says the money raised will go to the public sector, though it is sometimes doubtful if there will be any public sector left if the trend continues.

 A large part of the London Underground network is already in the shop window and our air traffic control system, the Royal Mint and the Commonwealth Development Corporation have recently joined it.

 They will soon be joined by a large part of the finance behind the student loan scheme, Belfast port, motorway service stations like Newport Pagnell and Watford Gap and many government buildings such as food bunkers set up during the Cold War and Ministry of Defence Cottages on Salisbury Plain.

 Mr Brown has said these are not privatisations but "public-private partnerships" with the government retaining a 49 per cent stake and a "golden share" in each one.

 He expects local authorities to raise £2.75 billion from property sales to raise extra money for schools, hospitals, housing and transport.

 After Tory privatisations, local authorities do not have much left to sell except those very schools, hospitals, housing and roads.

 This probably means entering into Private Finance Initiative deals where these facilities are handed over to private companies to rebuild and restore and are then rented back to the public sector.

 It is a scheme which multiplies costs -- a south-east London hospital due for redevelopment was ready in 1993 for a £28 million government investment when PFI was brought in. The project was halted and pushed over to PFI. Now costs are over £80 million and still work has not even begun.

 That extra cash has to be paid for in the rent paid by the NHS to the PFI companies and at the end the thing will still belong to the private company. This is what "public-private partnership" means.

 No same home-owner would hand over their most valuable and precious asset to a mortgage company and pay rent for the rest of their lives only to be left with no property at the end, in return for some immediate essential repairs.

 Yet Brown claims he wants to put an end to "short-termism" and replace annual spending rounds with three-year plans.

 Mr Brown hopes to raise a total of £2.75 billion from selling off the last crumbs of the "family silver" that the Tories did not get around to.

 The Liberal Democrats have pointed out that this will mean an increased spending growth of only 1.5 percent a year throughout the term of this Parliament -- less than under the Tories.

 Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said he was "deeply worried and very upset" by Brown's plans and his colleague Alan Simpson added: "Thatcher did this to local government throughout the eighties and was denounced for selling off the family silver."

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Ethiopia and Eritrea halt air war.

ETHIOPIA and Eritrea have agreed to stop bombing each other's cities following peace efforts by Rwanda, Italy and the United States And the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) is sending four African Presidents, the leaders of Burkino Faso, Djibouti, Zimbabwe and Rwanda to the two warring states in the Horn of Africa in a new initiative to end the confrontation.

 The agreement to halt air-raids came last weekend in response to American calls to end the fighting and White House phone calls to the Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders. And while this was going on a high-ranking Italian envoy shuttled from Eritrea to Ethiopia in a new bid to stop the fighting and get both sides round the negotiating table.

 Italy has a special role to play as it was the colonial ruler of both African countries. Eritrea's claim to land held by the Ethiopians, some 150 square miles along their common frontier, is based on maps drawn up in 1885 by Rome.

 The Eritreans, who won their independence from Ethiopia in 1993, now say they are ready for face-to-face talks with Ethiopia on the border question.

 But there's been no let up in the land war with both sides claiming victory. Ethiopia claimed on Sunday that 10,990 Eritrean soldiers were killed or wounded in battles from 9 to 11 June. They announced that 150 Eritreans had surrendered and that thousands of heavy and light armaments had been seized. The Ethiopian Army put their own losses as "minimal".

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British News

Unions to give battle over minimum wage.
by Daphne Liddle
THE FRONT line of the class struggle came into sharp focus last week as bosses and unions fought over the level of the minimum wage while the government's Low Pay Commission prepares the relevant legislation to introduce it.

 And it seems that both the bosses and the government are trying divisive tactics by con centrating their attack on young workers.

 The commission's current proposals are for a basic minimum rate of £3.60 an hour for adult workers with those under 21 paid either £3 or £3.20 an hour -- to be phased inover 18 months, and for 16 to 18 year olds to be excluded from the legislation altogether. The unions have been campaigning fora universal rate of £4.61 an hour but have lowered their bid to £4.

 Ken Cameron, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union described the £3.60 level as "a disgrace" and Bill Morris of the Transport and General Workers' Union said it was a "missed opportunity".

 Last week the commission was even considering counting tips and gratuities earned by restaurant hotel and other service staff to be taken into account as part of their minimum pay.

 Unions reacted strongly to this suggestion. "It is simply outrageous that bosses will be able to get away with including tips and gratuities to very low paid workers, who will only be paid £3.60 an hour anyway," said Donna Covey, national officer for the GMB general union.

 "The new rate should be clear and unambiguous. It should be paid as a right to help alleviate poverty. It should not be based on the generosity of a customer after a meal or a visit to the hairdresser's.

 "Thousands of low paid workers in the catering sector depend on tips to survive. By suggesting they can be included in the new rate, the commission could actually end up costing them money.

 "When I leave a tip after a meal it is to thank the staff. I do not want to subsidise employers who are reluctant to pay the full rate of £3.60 an hour.

 TUC general secretary John Monks warned that although the trade unions currently support the minimum wage strategy, suggestions of £3 an hour for those under 21 are "not credible".

 He added: "If the government departs from the LPC levels significantly we will be very disappointed and that view will be expressed very strongly over the trade union conference period."

 He spoke of the "social partnership" between the unions and the government over bringing in the minimum wage while the government continues to treat the unions with disdain and listen only to the voice of big business.

 This is one of the dangers of a minimum wage policy. If the level is set too low it can do more harm than good. Some workers could even find their wage levels being cut. Others will find themselves being replaced by cheaper teenagers.

 Workers will find it hard to mount a pay strike against a wage level set by government. The economic strike automatically becomes a political strike and would be unwinnable by one union alone. It would also be illegal according to current Tory anti-trade union laws.

 John Monks may warn the Blair government it will not be popular at union conferences but so far that does not seem to have weighed heavily with the Prime Minister.

 The only way to make a real impact on the government would be to implement the calls for industrial action at those conferences, for all the major unions to act together in solidarity and to break the Tory anti-union laws.

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