The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 19th September, 1997

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Editorial - Time to talk.
Lead Story - Don't let peace talks flounder.
Feature - "Mums Army" to replace welfare visits?
International - Albright returns empty handed.
British News - Fight begins over public sector pay freeze.


Time to talk.

  THE bomb blast at Markethill serves to underline just how important it is for the Irish peace talks to get underway with all parties sitting down together.

 Those loyalist leaders who beat their breasts about the bombing, even though it is not yet clear who was responsible for it, and use the incident as an excuse to once again play hard-to-get, will only increase the frustrations that can so easily lead to a breakdown of the peace process and a return to violence.

 There is no doubt that the Dockland's bombing, which ended the IRA's previous long ceasefire, need not have happened. The obstructiveness and foot-dragging by the Major government was such a cynical and drawn-out process that the IRA couId hardly have reached any other conclusion than that the government was extracting the urine.

 The new government in Britain has brought renewed hope for the peace process. The Unionists, with the exception of a bigoted minority, have cautiously responded. Everyone knows that peace is wanted by the people of the Six Counties both nationalist and loyalist and it is clear that the most realistic chance of bringing peace is through a process of talks.

 Whether or not the British ruling class still harbours hopes of defeating the IRA militarily, history has shown that oppressed peoples will not give up their struggle for freedom and justice and the colonial power will never crush the spirit of those it seeks to rule by forcing them to stare down the barrel of a gun.

 Over the years succeeding British governments have sent thousands of troops to Ireland in a vain attempt to defeat Republican resistance. Many nationalists have been interned, peaceful demonstrators have been shot and killed, plastic bullets have maimed and killed unarmed people, thousands have been imprisoned, homes have been raided, road-blocks and barricades have turned shopping centres into war zones and none of this has brought the military victory the imperialist power sought to win.

 British imperialism is, and always has been, the source of the troubles in Ireland. There is no Irish problem, only a British problem. This reality has been carefully concealed by most of the press and television reports down the years.

 Even now, the capitalist media continues to foster the idea that the success or failure of the peace process hinges on the IRA. Endless articles discuss whether or not the IRA ceasefire will hold, can the IRA be trusted? they ask, can Sinn Fein be trusted to sit at the same table as everyone else? and so on.

 This is all pretty rich considering the ceasefires were always initiated by the IRA and considering that Sinn Fein, along with the Social Democratic and Labour Party, took the first step in setting up the peace process and has consistently supported the concept of all inclusive talks.

 The politicians and pundits try very hard to focus public attention on the IRA, the loyalist para-military organisations and the religious sectarian divisions in order to distract attention away from the role of Britain.

 They fail to tell the truth -- that the most heavily armed force in northern Ireland is the British Army and that the fundamental obstacle to Peace is Britain's occupation of the Six Counties.

 Britain could, if it chose, bring the war to an end by getting out of Ireland, ending partition and allowing the Irish people as a whole the right to determine their own affairs.

 Claims that this would lead to a sectarian bloodbath are an insult to the people of Ireland. After all, loyalism can only exist while Britain desires such loyalty to be given. If Britain withdrew, there would be no political basis for violence.

 Meanwhile, the peace process is an important step forward. There should be no more posturing and shadowboxing. The all-party talks, including Sinn Fein should get underway.

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Lead Story

Don't let peace talks flounder

by Steve Lawton

   WITHIN days of the Irish peace talks being resumed in Belfast last Monday, and amid the momentary mayhem of the bomb blast, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) was led by David Trimble into Stormont Castle, but still -- as we go to press -- holding out against direct face-to-face negotiations with Sinn Fein.

 Sinn Fein have been present at the intended all-inclusive talks chaired by United States envoy and former senator George Mitchell, with the SDLP and the Irish and British governments, since Monday.

 When he emerged from talks in the evening, Gerry Adams said his party was "prepared to allow some time, some space to bring the unionists into the process."

 But with unionist leaders prolonging their resistance to direct talks and risking more provocations which could scupper negotiations, the patience of parties already part of the preparations is wearing thin.

 Both Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president and SDLP leader John Hume stressed the importance on Wednesday of simply getting down to business together. As Gerry Adams said, Monday was the launch date to begin the hard graft of peace but real negotiations still haven't begun.

 He said David Trimble had engaged in "a very cynical manouevre" and had not carried out the mandate of many in his community who wanted talks to begin.

 Unionist turmoil over whether to sit opposite Sinn Fein or negotiate through intermediaries -the so-called proximity approach -- was heightened when the bomb blast hit the RUC station in Markethill, County Armagh, last Tuesday morning.

 The unionists have come under intensified pressure as David Trimble continued to resist head-to-head talks with Sinn Fein. But the popular mood is increasingly swinging behind direct negotiations to reach an all-party agreement.

 The bomb explosion, rather than implicating Sinn Fein, has actually exposed the mounting tensions in the unionist camp. If the no-direct-talks approach persists, it is liable to show that unionists have no alternative but a return to the past -- something of which they accuse Sinn Fein. Hence, there was as air of desperation about David Trimble's attacks on Sinn Fein.

 This was made clear when the UUP leader, following talks with British northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlem at Stormont, said that "the gut feeling of the people" was that the IRA were responsible. And having jumped immediately to this conclusion, he swiftly tabled a motion to have Sinn Fein expelled from the talks.

 It failed, as did a subsequent complaint on Monday. both Ireland's foreign minister Ray Burke and Mo Mowlem were satisfied with Sinn Fein's explanation of its relationship with the IRA.

 David Trimble had called upon Mo Mowlem to undertake a "visibly effective" security response. No one has claimed respnsibility, and the blast came after an uncoded call to the BBC offices in Belfast. But the IRA, using a recognised code, called the RTE newsroom shortly after David Trimble pointed the finger at the IRA, and stated that they were not responsible for the blast.

 Even upon entry to Stormont the rhetoric continued as he described Sinn Fein as having a "fascist character". Now the unionists have publicly crossed the psychological threshold, backing out of moving toward direct talks will be difficult without losing face, especially with realists in the unionist and loyalist community.

 As Gerry Adams identified when he arrived at Stormont on Monday: "Let us be clear about what is driving the unionists at this time. They are afraid of real negotiations because they are afraid of change. But change has to come and progress has to be made. When progress is being prevented by fear, then those who are not afraid must lead the way."

 And, at this very sensitive and potentially historic moment, more provocations aimed at scuppering the talk can best be prevented by all the parties getting down to the issues quickly to stabilise the uncertainty and isolate any forces of disruption.

 Sinn Fein negotiator Gerry Kelly regreted the bombing and told Irish TV on Tuesday: "Finding peace is hard work, and it's difficult for all sides, and we have come here to try and sort it out.

 "David Trimble can latch on to this incident today, or any other incident, and stretch out the period of time he stays outside these talk." But there was no doubt, he said, that the unionists will join the talks because "there is only one negotiating room."

start talks now
 A point sharpened by Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin on Channel Four Wednesday morning. He said he hoped the UUP leader would stop "exploiting" the incident and show "political leadership". He said "let's start the process of getting a new democratic settlement -- immediately."

 John Hume, leader of the SDLP, said on Radio 4 Wednesday morning that he thought it was the work of a splinter group and the purpose was to scupper talks. But that all parties must reach agreement in the peace
process was paramount.

 "Sinn Fein are at the table as we are", he said, and he again pressed for unionists to be at the talks which was the "best way of reaching agreement" now "given the last 25 years of instability." He said all parties must "concentrate minds on creating an agreement" that commands the "loyalties of all people".

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"Mums Army" to replace welfare visits?

by Caroline Colebrook

 EDUCATION Secretary David Blunkett and Health Minister Tessa Jowell are currently considering a scheme to recruit thousands of experienccd mothers to help younger parents and teach them how to bring up their children.

 Details of the scheme are now being finalised.

 The women will be invited to volunteer to visit new mothers judged to be vulnerable to advise on feeding, nappy changing, bathing babies and providing reading stimulation.

 The scheme is part of the government's "mission" to prevent social exclusion pioneered by Peter Mandlelson, the Minister without Portfolio.

 Young mothers may be judged as "vulnerable" if they have postnatal depression, sickness or have been recently divorced.

 Tessa Jowell said the volunteers would be vetted and given some training in counselhng before being sent out to visit their charges weekly.

wisdom and guidance

 She said: "Often what is needed is a sense of alongsidedness to pass on wisdom and guidance born of experience.

 "In the past lots of young women had their own mothers to help them, but increasingly families are separated and the extended family does not exist in the same way."

 The government says this "Mums army" will help to break down social barriers, reduce inequality and tackle the problem of loneliness.

 These aims appear worthy and it is true that the nuclear family, produced by the needs of bourgeois society, does lead to great isolation for many young mothers.

 But two weeks ago this paper carried a report of plans by a number of health authorities to save money by doing away with the universal health visitor service.

 We cannot help suspecting that behind these fine sounding words is a plan to save the government money by replacing highly trained nurses and health visitors with unpaid volunteers with only minimal training.


 And far from encouraging equality, designating some, but not all, young mothers as "vunerable" could carry a social stigma with it. This could make some of the young mothers feel a sense of resentment against interfering strangers.

 Vetting would have to be very careful indeed. There are many motives for volunteering for such work and not all of them altruistic.

 And finding older mothers who are free to do this work will not be easy. Most older mothers now are working mothers.

 Or perhaps the government is looking towards a time when permanently high levels of unemployment continue to force women out of the workplace and back into the traditional unpaid caring roles, looking after both the younger and older generations because welfare services have been cut completely to save money.

 If the new volunteer service will be an addition to existing provision from health and social services and if it is carefully managed, it could be of great benefit to many young famlies.

 But if it is aimed to be a cheapskate substitute for existing professional health careservices, then we must fight hard to protect those services at their current level.

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Albright returns empty handed.

by Our Middle East affairs correspondent
 AMERICAN Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came to the Middle East with nothing to offer to the Arabs and she's gone home with nothing to show for it.

 And the Palestinians are predicting a new round of violence following the establishment of a provocative new Zionist settlement in the heart of Arab East Jerusalem with the tacit blessing of the Netanyahu government.

 Stone-throwing Palestinian youths clashed with Israeli police guarding two houses taken over by armed Zionist settlers in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Pas al Amud. The houses had been bought by an American Zionist millionaire, Irving Moskowitz, as part of a plan to build another Zionist settlement in Arab Jerusalem.

 Premier Benyamin Netanyahu offcially opposed the move but Moskowicz is believed to have made substantial donations to Netanyahu's Likud bloc during the last election and, needless to say, nothing has been done to remove the settlers from the Arab quarter.

 In Israel, the US foreign minister went out of her way to bolster the Netanyahu leadership. She refused to publicly or privately press them to honour past Israeli agreements with the Palestinian leadership. Nor did she do anything to get the wider Arab-Israeli talks back on crack.

 Syria wants the talks to resume where they left off with the old Labour-led Israeli government. Netanyahu wants to start from the beginning again while ruling out any total withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights. And Albright did nothing to convince Netanyahu to rethink his hardline policy which has killed the "peace process" stone-dead on all fronts.

 Albright did make a half-hearted appeal for an end to unilateral Israeli settler actions which has been ignored. Netanyahu has eased the restrictions in the occupied territories to allow some Palestinians to return to work in Israel. But the Israeli leader continues to demand that the Arafat administration round-up all suspected Islamic militants in advance of any new talks on further Israeli pull-backs in the West Bank.

 Netanyahu no doubt believes that he can crush any Palestinian resistance and he seems indifferent to growing domestic pressure to end the futile conflict tn southem Lebanon, which claimed more Israeli lives this week.

But there have been grim warnings of violence to come, and not just from the Palestinian side. And the flashpoint is the new Zionist settlement in Jerusalem. Israeli chief of police, Assaf Hefetz, bluntly told the press that "this action will bring riots and the renewal of the Intifarda in Jerusalem".

 Left social-democratic Meretz leader Yossi Sarid said Moskowitz should be barred from returning home to America so that he could face the violent consequences of his actions and "eat the meal he has burnt".

 Former Israeli Jerusalem mayor, Teddy Kollek, said people like Moskowitz were "a plague" on the city and senior Israeli army officers are saying that the tension could soon lead to full-scale guerrilla war with the Palestinian police in tile "autonomous" zones.

 Yael Dayan, the daughter of General Moshe Dayan, led a Peace Now protest at the confrontation line around the two houses. "This is scandalous. It's an invitation to terrorism," she declared. "The fact that the prime minister did not move them out within five minutes makes him an accomplice in the next terrorist act".

 The same could be said of Madeleine Albright.

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British News

Fight begins over public sector pay freeze

NURSES and teachers reacted angrily last week to news that the government wants them to suffer another year of frozen pay while it confirmed pay rises for Cabinet ministers of around £20,000.

 Later reports saying that Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Cabinet members had decided not to take up their full salary increases failed to stifle the protests from public sector workers.

 The TUC announced it would be seeking a meeting with the Chief secretary to the Treasury, Alistair Darling, to discuss the public sector pay round.

 In a letter to Mr Darling, TUC General secretary John Monks wrote, "it is clear that there cannot be a permanent freeze in the public sector pay bill without the quality of services being affected".

 This concern about public services was also made by trade union representatives of both the nurses and the teachers. Both services are suffering from serious staff shortages and pay and working conditions are a big factor in this.

 Maggie Dunn, chairperson of the Nursing and Midwifery Staff Negotiating Council, called for nurses pay, at all levels, to be attractive to new recruits and to maintain staffing nutnbers.

 "We have falling numbers of registered nurses", she said, "not enough people training and an increasingly elderly workforce.

 "By the end of the decade, 25 per cent of the workforce will have reached retirement age.

"We need to attract new staff... we can't do any of this unless we have an appropriate financial award".
Christine Hancock, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said the shortage of nurses would be the biggest single issue in the expected winter hospital crisis.

 Criticising the insensitivity of the announcement of cabinet ministers pay rises, she said: "We want decent rises for our members because there is evidence of a shortage of nurses ... There is not a shortage of people wanting to be Cabinet ministers."

 Public sector union Unison's general secretary, Rodney Bickerstaffe, said he did not have a problem with pay rises for ministers providing public sector workers got the same treatment.

 National Union of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers leader Nigel de Gruchy warned: "Sooner or later there's bound to be an explosion of anger among teachers. Industrial action can't be ruled out if teachers are going to be pushed down year after year.

 Unfortunately, just when public sector workers need to stand firmly together, the leader of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Peter Smith, announced his union was to break away from the practice of submitting a joint pay claim with other teachers' unions.

 Headteachers have put in for a ten per cent pay rise. The response from the school standards minister, Stephen Byers, was to reiterate the government's policy of pegging down public spending. What money there is for education, he said, should be used to provide books and equipment.

 He used the same argument about health service spending saying: "We will be firm but fair. The public sector unions will understand that. We want more money going into schools and hospitals rather than Day."

 But this is like saying health and education workers, many of whom are already very badly paid, should be forced to make sacrifices in order to subsidise the services they work in.

 This is a deplorable argument, particularly as it is coming from a government that remains committed to protecting the wealthy from further income tax increases. All sections of the labour movement should vigorously oppose it and stand squarely alongside the public sector workers in the inevitable struggle that lies ahead.

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