The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 20th June, 1997

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Editorial - Unthinkable thoughts
Lead Story - Restore the link with Wages - Pensioners demand "a better deal".
Feature - Outrage over health charge proposals.
International - Euro summit - Giving monetary stability a human face.
British News - Privatisation threat still hangs over tube.



Editorial


Unthinkable thoughts


"THINKING the unthinkable" is a term we have become quite familiar with in recent years. It always warns of some further attack on working class people and, as far as the ruling class is concerned, it isn't really an "unthinkable" idea at all -- just a move the politicians fear would cause a public outcry if we were not sofened-up first.

As soon as these words are uttered we know a plan is being hatched to further weaken the "welfare state" and undermine the principle of universal provision for things like health care, pensions and benefits.

The argument is always the same -- there isn't enough money. And yet, Britain is among the richest countries in the world Indeed there is so much wealth in the hands of the capitalist class that they have to search for new areas for investment all the time.

The rich cannot let their capital sit idle because it would depreciate in value. The crisis of over-production that is afflicting the capitalist world means there is less investment being made in manufacturing industry. Only very low wage economies attract this kind of new investment.

This problem of where to invest has been one of the factors driving governments to sell-off public assets and services to private hands. We can already see how eagerly capitalists snap up privatised utilities in their own countries and abroad.

These processes lead to a greater and greater concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. So, though Britain is a wealthy country the lion's share of that wealth is in the private sector. The public sector loses all the time.

Telling the people to "think the unthinkable" means protecting private fortunes while persuading us to accept that the money available for social spending must be kept down. The only thing left to decide is how to share this money among the various public services.

There is of course another way of looking at things. We need to raise some "unthinkable" thoughts of our own -ideas which will really raise the collective blood pressure of the parasite class.

This would include a loud rejection of policies which merely rearranges social spending among the various government departments in favour of policies which redistribute wealth by progressive taxation and thus increase the size of the public purse.

Blair's plan to squeeze the bosses of the privatised utilities with a windfall tax is just scratching the surface. We need to roll-back the tax bonanza enjoyed by the rich since 1979 and shift the burden onto the shoulders of the wealthiest section of society.

We also need to raise the demand for scrapping Trident and cutting defence spending. It is outrageous that there should be talk of raising prescription charges and charging patients for health care services while successive governments ring fence nuclear weapons.

We need to draw attention to aspects of capitalist society the ruling class would prefer us not to mention. For instance the fact that all wealth derives from the labour of the working class. In a class-divided, capitalist society such as ours, the minority who own most of this wealth have not produced any useful product, provided any service or benefited society in any way at all.

Sometimes these parasites claim they are necessary because they provide people with jobs. But it is the other way around - our labour which provides them with riches and the good life.

Besides, if the raw materials, factories, farms, mines and plants belonged to society as a whole we could then organise industry and production ourselves and have a planned economy that serves the interests of the majority of the people and not one that is geared solely to making riches for a few.

Such a change requires a social revolution and the building of a socialist society.

Raising the idea of socialism is, of course, the ultimate "unthinkable thought" to those who hold the reins of state power today. But it's an idea which is not going to go away. Socialism is the truly modern idea and it is the future!


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Lead Story


Restore the link with Wages - Pensioners demand "a better deal"


MORE than 2,000 delegates attended last week's Pensioners' Parliament in Blackpool. They came from affiliated organisations all over Britain and represented a million and a half people.

Hundreds of the delegates got the proceedings underway by marching through the town to demonstrate their demand for "a better deal" for Britain's 10 million pensioners.

The call is well-timed as Social Security Minister John Denham confirmed last Tuesday that the government is to undertake a pensions review as part of a wider review of the welfare system.

National Pensioners Convention president Jack Jones welcomed the review but called for pensioners' organisations to be consulted.

The National Pensioners' Convention has already sent a statement to the government's preliminary review outlining its demands. It calls for restoring the link with earnings, an imediate increase in the state pension, a diminution of means-testing and a modernised State Earnings Related Pensions Scheme (Serps).

One of the key demands of pensioners is for the Labour government to bring back the link between the state retirement pension and earnings. This link was broken by the Thatcher government.

Since then pensioners have seen their living standards decline. Now the election of a Labour government has given rise to expectations of change for the better. But so far Tony Blair has not committed the government to the pledge made by his predecessor, John Smith, to restore the earnings-link. Everything seems to have been put on hold until the reviews are completed.

Because of the policies of the past 18 years of Tory governments, there is an obvious and widening gap between pensioners who rely solely on their state pension and those with other incomes such as occupational pensions or savings.

Nor is everything in the garden rosy for retired workers with company pensions either. Despite high profile scandals like that of the Mirror Group pensioners in the days of the late Robert Maxwell, a high court ruling last week still gave bosses the right to use pension fund surpluses for their own purposes.

The TUC wants this practice stopped and will soon put its views on this matter to the government.

It is, of course, an outrage that pension fund surpluses -- which should benefit pensioners -- are dipped into by employers. But it is a catch twenty two situation since there are fears that if the law forbad bosses to use the pension funds in this way they would limit their contributions to the schemes to the bare minimum.

These problems only serve to underline the importance of a decent and universal state pension thatis linked to wages so that pensipners can keep pace with Inflation and live with dignity and financial security.

This demand for a secure, universal state pension providing a good standard of living was echoed by the speakers at the Pensioners' Parliament.

Leading peace activist, Bruce Kent, said it was obscene to spend billions on nuclear weapons while saying there is no money for pensions. His call for cutting defence spending and redirecting resources received a standing ovation from the delegates.

As we go to press the Pensioners' Parliament has a further two days of discussion ahead. It is an event that we all need to pay attention to because the cause of Britain's pensioners is our cause too.

This is not just because we shall all be pensioners one day, but because the fight for social justice, for the principle of universality in social provision and against iniquitous means-testing is the fight of all working people of all ages.

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Feature


Outrage over health charge proposals


by Caroline Colebrook

TRADE UNIONS, health workers and doctors all reacted angrily last week to news that the new Labour government is considering charging patients who visit their family doctor, introducing prescription charges for pensioners and making hotel charges for hospital beds.

These proposals are among many being considered by the new government's health review. And it is a sign that the financial state of the National Health Service is a lot worse than the Labour leaders realised when they were elected.

They are desperate to find money from somewhere to prevent trusts going bankrupt and to prevent a repetition of last winter's scenes where casualty units were so over stretched they had to close their doors to new emergencies.

Already 5 million extra has been pledged for paediatric intensive care -- one area of many much-publicised failures last winter.

But the government is still refusing to contemplate raising taxes to meet the emergency.

The proposals to introduce more charges and means testing into the service have met with such an outcry that the government did some hasty back-tracking and accused the press of misrepresenting its intentions.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Alistair Darling said the claims being made about Labour's plans are "ludicrous". But he then refused to rule out these options.

"It is about the long-term planning of this government over three, four or five years and into the next Parliament," he said.

"To start excluding things would mean that before too long you would not be reviewing anything." The only option that has been ruled out is raising taxes.

And Health Secretary Frank Dobson said of the review: "It is going to look at everything that has to be looked at. It has to be intellectually honest."

The annual conference of the public sector union Unison, which represents thousands of healh workers, was meeting in Brighton as the announcement of the review and the proposals before it was made. It immediately condemned the proposals.

Bob Abberly, Unison's chief officer for health workers, said: "We trust the government will stick to its manifesto commitment of safeguarding the NHS based on clinical need rather than ability to pay.

"Public opinion will not stand for any undermining of this principle."

British Medical Association chairperson Dr Sandy Macara said he was "appalled" that such ideas are even being considered.

And BMA officer Ian Bogle said: "It's totally against everything I have ever believed in, does nothing for the doctor-patient relationship, and could deter patients in poorer parts of the country from seeking medical attention."

And Karen Caines, director of the Institute of Health Services Management (MSM) said: "Ten pounds fora visit to the GP would be what people spend on almost any leisure activity these days, but I can't see how politically they can go down that road."

The storm of anger provoked by these proposals, followed by the Labour leadership's attempt to back-pedal, indicate that to a certain extent the govemment was kite-flying, to test what they could get away with.

They've been doing that on a lot of other issues this last week, including tuition fees for students and privatising the Tube.

The strength of the reaction has been heartening but it will have to be sustained. The government may well back off from trying to go down this path this year.

But the financial problems - a basic feature of capitalism - will not go away and these outrageous proposals will probably be back on the agenda again another year until we get used to the idea, in the hope that we accept them as inevitable.

This must not happen. We must keep up the pressure on the Labour leadership to stop going down the Tory path and to start to restore the NHS.

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International


Euro summit - Giving monetary stability a human face


by Steve Lawton

THE European Union's two-day summit in Amsterdam which concluded last Wednesday at 3am, demonstrated that a firm line is being held on maintaining the timetable for the single European Currency launch in January 1999.

Earlier suggestions of treaty threatening French-German "differences" jeopardising the summit in the event proved unfounded as a compromise solution was agreed on Monday which cleared the way for the rest of the summit's proceedings. Considering the enormity and pace at which Europe is being re-shaped, the summit was a relatively smooth affair.

The bone of contention from Premier Lionel Jospin's French Socialist government centred on a summit commitment to jobs growth as a condition written into the stability pact. The pact is designed to ensure strict adherence to the currency timetable and is part of the new Maastricht Treaty-in-the-making.

Germany's Chancellor Kohl had objected to any inclusion of specifically pact-related jobs creation package, but agreement was reached once the right noises were made on future employment commitments. That is refleeted in the new chapter on employment matters, which aims at better international co-ordination of employment issues, which is to be backed by a 700 million European Investment Bank loan.

But this measure in itself will do very little to address the problem of getting the EU's 18 million unemployed back into work.

Premier Lionel Jospin's Socialist government could then argue that its key election plank of creating 700,000 newjobs was being defended through this deal. This is consistent with the agreed commitment to "promoting a high level of employment" in Europe. And it was agreed that a European jobs summit would be held in the Autumn.

In particular, partly at the behest of the British government, the EU is commited to "promoting a skilled and adaptable workforce and labour markets."

Premier Tony Blair's impact has been to render Britain a "responsible" place in summitry dealings. The Labour government's concern to see EU accommodation on independent British border controls have been accepted.

Six governments, among them British, French and German, reached a compromise on the EU's defence role, which includes 11 of the 15 EU members. It is presently restricted "with a view to the possibility of the later integration of the WEU into the Union should the European Council so decide." Britain had objected to a French-German drive to expand the EU's military role at this time.

voting power

But the voting power of each EU member state after expansion from 15 to 25 (into eastern Europe) has not been agreed and remains unresolved.

With an eye on that expansion, the dominant powers want to reduce smaller nations' say.

Social, environmental, economic, consumer and foreign policy issues were also agreed Britain will sign up to the Social Protocol of the Treaty with the proviso that new EU legislation a kept to a minimum.

The social inclusion clause in one of the early chapters of the new treaty, was particularly pressed by Ireland. This enables the EU to assisting member countries' measures on health and safety, working conditions, unemployment and equal rights at work.

But special assistance to the disabled and elderly was dropped due to stiff German opposition. And the principle of what they call "balanced and sustainable development" has been endorsed.

The social democratic shift from centre-right and reactionary Parties in Britain and France -- and possibly in Germany too at the next election -- is aimed at enabling the ruling classes to manoeuvre against militant opposition from the labour movement by making temporary concessions while remaining rigidly fixed on the key economic objectives.

The summit was about aligning these movemments into a common European-wide economic position. The Political administration, institutions and issues of decision-making may be the cause of wrangles to come, but the industrialists, bankers and financiers are likely to accommodate a single currency and monetary union with what they hope looks like a human face.
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British News


Privatisation threat still hangs over tube


by Daphne Liddle

DEPUTY Prime Minister John Prescott is considering handing over control of London Underground to the private sector in exchange for much needed finance for urgent repairs -- in other words privatisation.

On last Monday's BBC Panorama programme Prescott hotly denied a U-turn in policy since opposition to Tube privatisation was a major plank of Labour's election campaign just two months ago.

He maintained that the government is still against "wholesale privatisation" and accused the programme makers of stealing and misrepresenting a confidential government document considering some form of privatisation.

It is evident that the extent of the repairs necessary and the money needed were underestimated by Labour while in opposition.

The Tube is suffering from 18 years of neglect under Tory rule and last year's funding cuts have derailed what meagre repair programmes were underway.

The Panorama programme drew attention to the regular closure of many Tube stations during the rush hour because of dangerous overcrowding.

Every day sees several incidents of train failures, track failures and other types of breakdown. And things are getting worse as both the infrasuucture, the tracks and the rolling stock steadily deteriorate and become less and less reliable.

The Labour government is unable to give the necessary funding to cover even urgent repairs without raising taxes. And it has committed itself not to do this.

So it is looking about desperately and considering practically selling off the Tube in order to raise the money.

Prescott admitted he was looking at ways of bringing in the private sector in "public-private partnerships" -- another version of the private finance initiative which is really back-door privatisation.

Another option being considered is setting up a trust to guide investment or modifying Treasury rules so government money can be used. But this could lead to cuts in other areas.

When questioned about reneging on Labour's manifesto commitment to keep the Tube out of private hands, Prescott said: "We have rejected totally the idea the Tories put forward forthe Underground, which was to totally privatise it and hope they would do the investment.

"We are not prepared to accept that we are prepared to have public accountability," -- which is not quite the same thing as public ownership and control.

Meanwhile the private sector, encouraged by the profits made from the break-up and sale of British Rail, is waiting anxiously in the wings to make what it can from London underground.

Peter Ford, chairperson of London Transport, said last week: "Several private companies have said they see this as an opportunity."

This is all the more reason why pressure must be maintained on the government to keep the Tube in public hands.

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