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By our Arab Affairs Correspondent
IRAQ HAS agreed to allow the UN weapons inspectors back without conditions.
A wise and courageous decision which has been hailed throughout the world
with the exception of Anglo-American imperialism and their closest lackeys.
Americans, who dismissed the Iraqi move almost immediately, are still pushing for a war motion at the UN Security Council. But Washington is increasingly isolated and can only count on the Blair government and abject client states like Israel for support.
No excuse for war
There is now no excuse for war Iraqi premier Tariq Aziz said on Tuesday
following his government’s decision to agree unconditionally to the return
of the UN teams. They [the Americans] thought Iraq wouldn’t take such a
decision," he declared. "We are ready to work with the UN Secretary General to apply our decision" he said adding that "all weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have been completely destroyed. Even buildings housing equipment have been destroyed". But the Iraqi premier warned that US President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a "new Afghanistan" to control its vast oil reserves.
The Iraqi decision was warmly welcomed by the Arab League, the non-aligned countries and even some of America’s Nato allies including Germany and Belgium.
At the United Nations People’s China and Russia welcomed the Iraqi offer to resume arms inspections, describing it as "positive" and an "important step". France, though declining to back Bush to the hilt, remained cautious saying that the Security Council now had several options to consider while noting that the Iraqi government should keep its word.
Bush wants war
But America’s ruling circles are bent on conquest and Bush’s men are determined to find a pretext for another onslaught against the defiant Arab country. They are still lobbying for a new anti-Iraqi UN resolution – which no doubt would be drafted like the totally unacceptable Austrian ultimatum to Serbia which started the First World War. But the prospects of getting agreement on the Security Council has now faded – at least for now. And Russia, still one of the Big Five veto Powers, made it clear that they believe no further action is needed now that the Iraqis have accepted the original demands of the United States and Britain.
While the international business community breathed a sigh of relief at the prospect of peace with surges on the stock exchanges and a dip in the price of oil Washington’s war machine marched on. The nominally British Indian Ocean island air-base of Diego Garcia is getting ready to receive Stealth bombers whose target will be Iraq and more troops are being sent to US bases in the Gulf.
Mandela condemns Bush
Internationally the only serious backing for Bush has come from Tony Blair, who is trying to fend off growing anti-war sentiment in the country and throughout the Labour Party. The Iraqi offer must be treated sceptically bleated Foreign Minister Jack Straw and Tony Blair’s office implied that the Iraqi offer wasn’t sincere – both arguing Bush’s case to the British people.
But the hypocrisy of imperialism was flayed by retired South African leader Nelson Mandela on Tuesday when he condemned Bush while speaking to the press in Johannesburg.
"What has he [Bush] to come in to say that offer is not genuine? We must condemn that very strongly…that is why I criticise most…leaders all over the world of keeping quiet when one country wants to bully the whole world."
Mandela said that those who had been helped by the United States in the past should not let that stop them from speaking out today. "I have got assistance from the United States," he said. "I am grateful for that…but I’m not going to allow what they have done for me to shut my mouth. I will speak when they’re wrong".
Last week the South African freedom fighter said that America’s stand against Iraq was designed for the benefit of its oil corporations and its arms industry.
Stop the war
Doubts about the wisdom of the war are being expressed in the US Congress and opposition on the street is growing. In the Arab world many fear that Bush will attack with or without a UN sanction. They believe Anglo-American imperialism is set on the re-colonisation of the oil-rich Middle East as Israel can no longer do their dirty work for them.
In Britain anger at Blair’s crawling to Bush – on behalf of the most venal sections of the ruling class whose interests rely entirely on American power. – is mounting.
Massive support for next week’s protest in London will be tremendous backing for those struggling to defeat the war lobby in the government and the Labour Party. This war can and must be stopped before it starts.
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by Daphne Liddle
WHEN IS 7.6 per cent not 7.6 per cent: when it's spread over 18 months and is really only 4.2 per cent annually.
This sleight of hand is at the heart of the railworkers pay dispute that has brought South West Trains (SWT) to a halt for four days already this year as members of the RMT transport union have taken strike action on 3, 4, 7 and 8 January.
The action so far has been two 48-hour strikes which have stopped trains out of Waterloo to south-west London and to the south coast, affecting some 200,000 commuters a day.
The dispute has been brewing for a long time and it stems from South West Trains -- owned by Stagecoach -- making a poorer offer to train guards and station staff than to drivers.
When the trains were nationalised and run by British Rail, percentage pay rises were for all grades.
Since privatisation, the RMT union has been battling for a fairer settlement. When South West Trains refused to negotiate, the union balloted for action and won a powerful 76 per cent in favour of striking.
At the same time the RMT balloted for action in protest at the victimisation of two union activists.
Greg Tucker was a train driver who was elected to be the health and safety rep at Waterloo. This followed the victimisation of the previous health and safety rep, Sarah Friday who took her union role a bit too seriously for the SWT management.
Her insistence on high safety standards cost the company time and money and she was dismissed on a trumped up charge of failing to ask permission to go to the toilet.
She won an industrial tribunal over unfair dismissal but was not given her job back.
Greg Tucker took a leading part in the protests at her dismissal. He also led a successful action against SWT attempts to make staff wear red waistcoats.
SWT management then picked on his long standing career as a political activist on many progressive issues to paint him as a dangerous red.
Supervisors were instructed to watch him like a hawk until he did something wrong. Eventually they found he had spent a few moments driving his train at over the speed limit -- on a stretch where the limit was reduced from 100 miles an hour to 90.
They then demoted him to a ticket collector at Clapham Junetion, cutting his salary from £30,000 to £15,000.
The union is demanding his reinstatement. It is concerned that if every safety rep is victimised in this way, there will be few volunteers for the post. SWT's actions are a threat to the union's meaningful existence.
The other victim is train guard Mike Skiggs, another union activist also disciplined, this time ostensibly for using a mobile phone for a short time while passengers were boarding a train on which he was the guard.
Both Greg Tucker and Mike Skiggs insist the real dispute is about pay and that SWT is using them as a smokescreen to confuse the press.
The strike took a new lease of life last Tuesday when SWT imposed the 7.6 rise on guards and station staff -- a lower figure than had been on the negotiating table before.
Vernon Hince, the acting RMT general secretary, said this 7.6 per cent still fell short of what had been offered to the drivers and failed to address the victimisation of the two union activists.
He said: "I have never known such arrogance in all my years in the rail industry."
The union responded by fixing two new strike days for 24 and 25 January.
Meanwhile three other rail companies are also facing action from the RMT and the train drivers' union Aslef.
Drivers for Scotrail last week refused to work voluntary overtime in a dispute over demands for a £5,000 increase in basic pay.
This led to the cancellation of around a quarter of Scotrail's services and showing how heavily it depends on long hours of overtime from its drivers.
The RMT is also in dispute with Arriva trains in the north of England over low pay offers for guards and station staff.
The union has fixed 24 January, 5 and 6 February for strike days on Arriva trains. This will also affect services on the trans-Pennine routes and on Merseyside.
And RMT members employed by Connex South East, which runs trains from south-east London through Kent and East Sussex, have rejected a pay offer and are balloting for strike action.
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by Caroline Colebrook
EXPECTANT mothers face a bewildering lottery when deciding where to give birth, according to The Good Birth Guide, published last week by an independent organisation called Dr Foster.
The guide revealed big differences in the levels of service available and areas where women are getting a poor service because of a chronic shortage of midwives.
The guide's aim was to give women a comprehensive survey of the levels of service available in hospitals throughout the country.
Most women have little choice, their doctor routinely will book them into the nearest big hospital. But the guide points out that this often leaves out smaller community hospitals and midwife led units.
It names Ipswich, Solihull and the Royal Devon and Exeter hospitals as having the busiest maternity units but it is the number of patients per midwife that makes a real difference to the level of treatment and care available.
And many of the biggest hospitals also have the gravest shortage of midwives.
The guide names Wexham Park hospital in Slough, Berkshire, Kingston Hospital in Surrey and King George Hospital in Ilford, Essex as being not only very busy hospitals but also having a very high midwife work load.
In 21 hospitals, there is on average more than one baby born every day per delivery bed.
It does not suggest that these very busy hospitals, usually in big cities, necessarily provide worse care.
But it warns: "There will be some pressured units which are operating with substantial overcrowding. Mothers have a right to consistent standards."
The Royal College of Obstetrictians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) supports the guide and says it gives a lot of useful information.
But it warned that counting the number of babies born per delivery bed per day does not always give a clear idea of the pressures on a maternity unit.
But there was agreement that the survey showed, once again, an alarming overall shortage of midwives that is particularly acute in the London area.
It is recommended that on average a midwife should deliver no more than 35 babies a year. At Wexham Park it is 51. At St Peter's in Chertsey, Surrey it is 49 and at the King George in Ilford it is 45.
When midwives are under pressure they often find themselves looking after more than one women in labour at a time.
Research has shown that women in labour who do not get one-to-one care do not do so well. There is a higher incidence of complications which lead to a higher proportion of caesarean sections needed.
Speaking for the RCOG, Peter Bowen-Simpkins said: "It emphasises that there are areas where pressure on midwives is enormous and patients are getting a worse service."
Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "It shows how precarious the service is at the moment and under-resourced.
"The Government is putting in a lot of effort but the returnees to midwifery are few. It is almost like running a tap and pulling the plug out."
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by Steve Lawton
SINN FEIN leaders, boosting republican and nationalist confidence as the New Year begins, are raising the profile of the long standing demand for a united Ireland.
Mitchell McLaughlin, the party's chairperson, told a gathering of the party's northern Ireland Assembly members (MLA's) in Derry last weekend, that Sinn Fein's presence on both sides of the north-south divide was sufficient now to begin the push for the island to be unified.
Speaking to the press after the conference, he said: "Given our political strength our party must take the responsibility for advancing a type of united Ireland that can accommodate all." McLaughlin said this remained the "core outstanding, political debate in Ireland.
He told MLA representatives that discussions with unionists on the "benefits of unity" must now begin, "by engaging with our political opponents -- unionist, nationalists and others." He said it was necessary to allay fears over the nature of constitutional change. but the "dismantling of partition... can no longer be ignored."
The Sinn Fein leader, dismissing provocative exaggerations of the party's likely poll showing in four months time, said that its current Westminster and local electoral advances would be built upon in the Irish Republic. The southern impact of Sinn Fein would be "highly significant", he said.
Meanwhile, delivering the Feargal O'Hanlon memorial lecture in Monaghan in the south last weekend, Martin Ferris, Sinn Fein councillor, and north Kerry candidate, also emphasised the widening base of the party's support. He said that ever since 1997, Sinn Fein has been in a permanent political campaigning mode.
He maintained "2001 will be remembered in electoral terms as the year Sinn Fein became the largest nationalist party in the Six Counties and won four Westminster seats, and when our party played a key role in defeating the Nice Treaty referendum in the 26 Counties."
Honouring fallen comrades from the IRA's armed struggle in 1957, he said their sacrifice "lives on in the commitment of the republicans of 2002 to achieve the republic for which they gave their lives."
With all the "new strategies and new methods of struggle" 45 years later, he said the "core aim of the struggle is the same. We remain totally committed to the ending of British rule in the Six Counties and to the unity of our country and our people."
Sinn Fein is "building the radical alternative and pointing the way forward to an all-Ireland democracy, an Ireland of equals", Martin Ferris declared.
British occupation of the north -- and the British state's anti-Good Friday Agreement saboteurs -- remain the key to serious outstanding problems in the unionist-nationalist divide.
Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president said,just prior to talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 13 December: "Sinn Fein does not participate in the current policing arrangements... and I reiterate my view that nationalists or republicans should not support the policing arrangements until the terms for this are in line with the Good Friday Agreement."
He felt "vindicated" in this decision particularly in the light of the Omagh bombing investigation in which the Special Branch and RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan are accused of failing to co-operate with the Policing Board. That was made possible by former northern Ireland minister Peter Mandelson's mangling of the policing commission process.
Gerry Adams said that while "Mr Blair did the right thing" in establishing the Saville inquiry into the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings by British paras in Derry, efforts have since "suffered as a result of obstruction and interferrence by the British MoD."
He said there has been a failure to address collusion and dirty tricks. Information has been withheld from inquiries and institutions, while other investigations -- especially into several murders and bombing incidents -- have either not happened or have been stymied.
At the same time, as Education Minister Martin McGuinness pointed out during the launch of the Granada film Blood Sunday: "The fact that English people are prepared to tackle a subject of such great embarassment to the British Government is to their eternal credit and I think it helps the peace process.
He added that it was time to "get on and secure the truth about a lot of things." The growing quest for Irish unity will help bring that about and strengthen the hand of those seeking reconciliation and political, social and economic equality.
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MANUFACTURING companies are cutting jobs at the fastest rate for a decade as they struggle to survive what is being described euphemistically as "the First synchronised downturn in the world economy" For more than 20 years.
Newspaper headlines may have covered the Christmas boom in high street sales. But behind the scenes, the underlying picture is one of serious dedine.
Daniel Kaye, an economist at Capital Economics, said: "Far from recovering, industry is now contracting at an even faster pace than before.
"Whatever happens to consumer spending, ii looks almost certain that policy-makers will be operating amidst an environment of deep manufacturing recession for the remainder of the year.
The activity index of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) fell from 45.6 in November to 45.2 in December. Anything under 50 signals a decline and this is the poorest reading since January 1992.
Mr Kaye warned that jobs in manufacturing are declining by six percent a year rather than the four per cent shown in official figures.
Even a few new orders are not improving the job situation.
Melinda Johnson of CIFS said: "it's a dismal picture for UK manufacturers. What we are seeing is that they are trying to improve their efficiency by meeting any new orders that they get directly from stocks."
Engineering is in serious trouble. The Engineering Employers' Federation said last Wednesday that a new survey reveals the bleakest winter for a decade.
Struggling firms have cut output in the last few months leading to a 3.2 per cent fall in 2001 that is expected to continue. EEF director general Martin Temple said: "Conditions for engineering manufacturing remain very difficult and many members are finding life as rough as in the 1990-92 recession.
"While a potential pick up in world trade holds out the prospcct of recovery in the second half of the year, companies currently need a breathing space if they are to benefit."
He expressed particular concern that the rise in consumer spending on the high streets this Christmas might prompt the Bank of England to increase the cost of borrowing.
He warned that Britain's engineering companies are in no shape to withstand higher interest rates.
The motor industry in Britain faces yet more problems, despite increasing sales of cars in Britain. A large proportion of those bought are imported.
Management at Jaguar last week held talks with union leaders over increasing fears that the Ford subsidiary is likely to have to make drastic job cuts at the Halewood plant on Merseyside.
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