The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 2nd November 2001

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Editorial - Ceasefire now!
Lead Story - Stop this criminal bombing.
Feature - Accident and Emergency services worsen.
International - Blair on fool's errand to Arabia.
British News - RMT safety war with C2C goes on.
More news and Diary


Ceasefire now!

BUSH and Blair are worried. Good! Support for their so-called "anti-terrorist" coalition is weakening and peace demonstrations are growing throughout the world.

 And no wonder. The relentless bombing raids on Afghanistan have brought death and injury to civilians, increased the number of Afghan refugees camped out on the border with Pakistan and prompted the United Nations and the aid charities to warn of a humanitarian catastrophe this winter.

 In plain language this means large numbers (some estimate millions) of people -- people who had nothing to do with the 11 September attack on the US -- could die from hunger, cold and disease if the war makes it impossible for relief -- to get through to those in need.

 But Bush and Blair think they'll get away with this murder if they drop a few food parcels in amongst the bombs and give some money to help Pakistan cope with the new wave of refugees caused by the bombing

 These cynical and callous gestures won't wash. Certainly the people on the receiving end of the bombs and missiles are not going to thank their aggressors for sending them a packed lunch, plastic cutlery and a damp napkin. And the mounting concern in Britain and the US will not go away because the refugees and injured victims might get a tent and blanket courtesy of western aid.

 So, Blair is now looking anxiously at the opinion polls which show support for the war is beginning to slip. There is open disquiet within the Parliamentaty Labour Party itself and in the wider labour movement.

 As well as the growing concern about the effects of the bombing on the innocent people of Afghanistan, there is considerable anxiety about the whole purpose and strategy of the war. The politicians and top military brass on both sides of the Atlantic seem incapable, or unwilling, to speak with one voice or to say what their real objectives are.

 Some talk of the war being nothing more than a matter of arresting bin Laden as quickly as possible. (This is the version that is used when talking to the worried Pakistani leadership). Others hint that the war could last for years or even go on indefinitely.

 Even the catch-all term, "war against terrorism", is alarming since Washington gets to decide who the "terrorists" are and what should be done to them. It is no secret that the US ruling class regards every organisation and every state that resists imperialism to be considered as "rogues" and "terrorists".

 Certainly, if the US were to define "terrorists" as those who kill innocent people for political, economic or strategic gain, the US state would itself stand accused on count after count.

 And what of the military tactics? The Bush/Blair clique assert that the bombs and missiles are aimed at military targets and that civilian casualties are unfortunate "collateral damage".

 Yet Bush's expression of surprise that the Taleban leaders show no sign of throwing in the towel gives the game away -- Bush clearly hoped the bombing raids would by now have borne fruit. In other words it is a policy of using bombs to terrorise the people and their leaders.

 Most people would be surprised if the Taleban had given in. Who advises this man? Does the US State Department know anything at all about Afghanistan? We might also ask why the US leadership can't even remember its own sorry history -- millions of tons of bombs, napalm and Agent Orange were poured onto Vietnam and still the American forces were kicked out.

  Blair of course really should know better -- the bombing raids on Britain during the Second World War did not lead to capitulation nor did it lead to defeat.

 The biggest lie of all is the assertion that the war is the only way to keep people safe from terror attacks like the events in New York and Washington. In the first place, a war by the world's richest state against the world's poorest, using millions of tons of high-tech weaponry is, without a shadow of doubt, going to make even more people throughout the world have reason to fight imperialism.

 In the second place, the underlying injustices are being swept aside. US and British policies in the Middle East and Central Asia do need to be changed. The US should take its troops out of Saudi Arabia. The Palestinians should have their just rights restored. Sanctions should be lifted from Iraq and the bombing of that country ended. This is the way the world can find its way back to peace.

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Lead Story

Stop this criminal bombing

by our Middle East affairs correspondent

AMERICAN bombers are pounding Afghanistan in the forth week of imperialist aggression which has left over 1,500 Afghan civilians dead and many more wounded.

 Across the Third World leaders and governments are calling for a halt to the senseless bombing while in the Western heartland's opposition to the war has spread from protests on the streets to misgivings in the corridors of power.

 And in Afghanistan the people are closing ranks around the Taleban regime as anger grows at the random air strikes on homes, schools and hospitals.

Afghan morale high

 Taleban leaders show no sign of wavering under attack, challenging the Americans to meet them on the ground and face their fighting men.

 Morale is high, buoyed up by the capture and execution of a Western stooge last week. They've told the thousands of Pakistani volunteers -- mainly Pushtoon (Pathan) tribesmen on the other side ofthe border -- that their help isn't needed.

 A small number of Western journalists have been invited into the country to see the civillan destruction for themselves. And the puritanical strictures against music have been relaxed leading to renewed singing of patriotic ballads including the song of the Battle of Maiwand, written at the time to mark the defeat of British impenalism during the Second Afghan War (1878-1880).

 Agent of imperialism

 Humayoun Arsala, known as "Abdel Haq" was a notorious mujahadeen fighter during the campaign against the old communist government of Afghanistan, who was feted in the West.

 Abdel Haq met Margaret Thatcher several times in London when she was in power as well as US President Ronald Reagan. One of his famous "victories" was the bombing of Kabul airport, which killed 28 mainly school children on their way to Moscow for an educational trip, which he justified as a warning to "people not to send their children to the Soviet Union".

 Though a prominent Pathan tribal leader he soon fell out with his mujahadeen allies after their victory in 1992 retiring to live as businessman operating in Pakistan and the Arabian Gulf. But he retained his contacts with the CIA, British and Pakistani intelligence, in the hope of a comeback. Two weeks ago he was approached by Western agents and encouraged to return to Afghanistan to tout for support for the return of the old king, who lives in exile in Rome. Last Friday his luck ran out.

 Entering the country secretly with large amounts of money and American air cover he was lured to a meeting and captured by Taleban loyalists.

 The next day he was summarily tried for treason and hanged in Kabul together with two of his supporters. An American agent who entered the country with him is on the run but the Taleban say that one CIA agent has been captured.

American troops

 This week Washington admitted that American troops were now operating in northern Afghanistan -- some 200 "advisers" to the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance which controls two enclaves in the north of the country.

 US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that fewer than 200 specialist troops were on the ground and added that "ground involvement" was for now limited -- "not anything like ground forces in World War 2, Korea or the Gulf War" he said but added ominously "but nor have we ruled that out".

 Imperialist plans to replace the Taleban with a puppet government headed by the old king have been shelved for the time being. Now they are pinning their hopes on a new Northern Alliance offensive against the strategic town of Mazar es Sharif and Kabul itself. American jets are hitting Taleban positions around Kabul and along the front-line with the Northern Alliance.

 But the alliance -- two northern warlords and some of the mujahadeen leaders Taleban drove out -- shows no sign of being able to do the job on their own. Taleban troops actually drove the Alliance out of one small town in the north last week and there's been no attempt to dislodge them from their positions around the capital.

Prolonged war

 Calls for a bombing pause during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan have been rejected but fears that an Afghan war could last for years and trigger off violence throughout the Islamic world are now being taken seriously.

 Pakistan's army regime is under fire, far beyond the small Islamic movements that back the Taleban and from many more who want the return of an elected government.

peace now

 Pakistan's two major parties are keeping a low profile at the moment, doubtless waiting for General Musharraf to become even more unpopular before playing their hand. But the massacre of Christians in a Pakistani church on Sunday shows that communal violence and pogroms could easily flare up if the war continues, and not just in Pakistan.

 The Blair government says it's ready to commit at least 200 commandos for combat in Afghanistan and no-one knows where it will end. The small Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru party is publicly calling for an end to the bombing -- a view reflected by a number of Labour MPs who have formed a new parliamentary peace lobby to campaign to end the war.

 Peace protests and vigils are taking place all over Britain and the next mass peace march and rally starts on Sunday 18 November. Mass mobilisation for peace can stop this war. It must be done!

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Accident and Emergency services worsen

by Caroline Colebrook

ACCIDENT and Emergency services are getting worse rapidly according to a report published bv the Audit Commission last week.

 The report shows that patients spend longer waiting to see a doctor even though the Government has invested millions of pounds in the departments and there are now some more doctors working in A&E departments.

 The commission's survey of 200 A&E departments in England an Wales found that waiting times at most trusts have steadily deteriorated since 1996, the year before Labour came to power.

 The figures show that in 1996, in 70 per cent of depart ments, the average waiting time to see a doctor or nurse practitioner was less than an hour.

 Last year 30 per cent of patients were seen by a doctor or nurse practitioner within an hour in only 15 per cent of A&E departments.

 Only 40 per cent of A&E departments managed to admit 80 per cent of their patients within four hours.

 There are huge regional variations, with patients in London having to wait around twice as long as the average time for the country as a whole.

 The commission pointed out that waiting times have increased everywhere in spite of a rise in the number of doctors.

 The commission blamed poor management and in particular the failure to deploy more nurse practitioners. It described them as a "missed opportunity".

 Only five per cent of A&E departments have nurse practitioners in significant numbers, even though 60 per cent of patients attending A&E departments have only minor injuries.

 Brian Dolan, a freelance nurse consultant in emergency care, said: "There is a lot of rhetoric about expanding nursing roles, but in many A&E departments we still have clinicians saying they don't want nurses to request X-rays. That is about territory, not about patient care."

 Another big problem is the shortage of beds in the rest of the hospital for the casualties to be moved into.

 The report said: "If a doctor is short of beds and can't admit patients fast enough, they pile up in A&E and impede the operation of that department. Delays in admission can hold up the assessment and treatment of other patients in A&E."

 Another big criticism of many A&E departments was he time taken to administer vital drugs to patients admitted after heart attacks.

 Only a third of A&E departments could prove they gave thrombolysis (clot-busting) drugs within 30 minutes to at least 75 per cent of patients presenting with a heart attack.

 The report was even more concerned that many departments failed to keep proper data on these matters. It found that six trusts supplied no data at all while another 29 A&E departments had no computers and had to sift through patient records to find the data.

 The truth is that patient waiting times have steadily declined both under the Tories and under Labour following the savage round of hospital closures by the Tories in the early 90s.

 London lost a high propertion of its A&E units so it's hardly surprising that queues have grown longer in those that have survived. The country as a whole lost thousands of beds.

 Labour was elected on promises that it would reverse this trend but instead it has continued to close hospitals or to transfer them via the private finance initiative to halfway privatisation. This cuts even more beds.

 Meanwhile, last week, the Government decided to close yet another hospital: Harefield in west London. This hospital runs the largest heart and lung transplant programme in the world and has carried out more than 2,000 such operations since 1980.

 The announcement was hardly noticed as it was made on the same day as the first air strikes against Afghanistan.

   Health Secretary Alan Milburn last Thursday announced a doubling of the number of NHS patients to be treated in private hospitals as a way of relieving pressure on NHS bed space.

 He said he would spend f40 million over the next 18 months on procuring up to 25,000 operations in the private sector.

 Thus public money which could have provided hundreds more NHS beds is being diverted into private pockets.

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Blair on fool's errand to Arabia

by Our Arab affairs correspondent

TONY BLAIR is on a whistlestop tour of Arabia, trying to hold the line for US imperialism and hoping that at least some of the Arabs will continue to toe the line on the Afghan war.

 Stopping first at Damascus for talks with President Assad, Blair wings down to Saudi Arabia to meet the King and Crown Prince and then back to Israel for a session with General Sharon and a possible meeting with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

 In a ground-breaking summit with Syrian leader Bashar al Assad -- the first time a British premier has eever gone to Syria Blair called for more Arab support for the anti-Afghan coalition and hinted about new ideas to end the fighting in Palestine.

 But if he hoped for an easy ride in Damascus he was sadly disappointed. Syria wanted the bombing to stop. "We cannot accept what we see every day on our television screens, whereby hundreds of innocent civilians are dying," the Syrian leader told Blair.

 President Assad made it clear that Syria wanted the underlying roots of tension in the world to be resolved, to "pull the rug from under the terrorists" Assad also stressed that "terrorism" and resistance were not the same. "We have made distinctions between terrorism and resistance, and insisted on the distinction between Islam and terrorism," he said. "The war against terrorism must be settled by a group definition of this phenomenon, by international co-operation, by solving the problem at its roots".

 Blair gave no public clue to what he has in mind for Palestine and normally few Arab leaders would care anyway given Britain's marginal role in the region these days as a cheerleader for US imperialism. It's slightly different today. Blair talks as if he speaks for Washington -- whether he does remains to be seen.

 And some idea of what these "new ideas" has been given by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the uneasy Labour ally in Sharon's grand coalition. Peres is talking about a ceasefire, followed by a "goodwill" complete Israeli pull-out from the Gaza Strip which would involved the closure of two Zionist settlements. Tel Aviv would recognise an independent Palestinian state with authority over the existing "autonomous" zones -- while the thorny questions of the rest of the West Bank, Jerusalem and the refugees would be left for later negotiations.

 The chances of this getting off the ground are less than zero as it gives the Arabs nothing more than what they've already got though its clearly all that General Sharon is prepared to offer.

 Peres, Israeli Labour and its allies, are however still prepared to go for something along the lines of last year's proposals endorsed by their old Barak government and the Clinton administration.

 This deal, which failed to meet the basic demands of the refugees, Is what some American analysts call the "parameters" of a future settlement. The "Barak" or "Clinton" plan gave the Palestinians authority over most of the West Bank and the Muslim areas of Jerusalem but left most of what Tel Aviv calls ; "Greater Jerusalem" in Israeli hands and only accepted the return of a small fraction of the Palestinian refugees.

 Now the imperialists fear that the anger on the Arab streets fired by the scenes of carnage in Afghanistan and Palestine, could easily turn against the venal oil princes whose thrones ultimately depend on American guns. There's more talk of Washington "imposing" a settlement on both the Israelis and Palestinians after a ceasefire.

 Well, the Arabs have seen this all before. Promises of a reasonable deal after the guns fall silent have always in the past evaporated into the stalemate leaving Israel free to persecute Arabs and carry on stealing their land.

 So Blair will be given the benefit of the doubt this week, but the crisis in the Middle East will only end when the imperialists match their pious words with deeds and restore the legitimate rights of the Palestinian Arabs.

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British News

RMT safety war with C2C goes on

by Steve Lawton

FOR several months now, despite persistent efforts by rail union RMT to get C2C management to recognise its safety concerns over driver-only trains, the Shoeburyness-Fenchurch Street mainline has been running a reduced and increasingly unsafe service for its 30,000 daily commuters.

 The situation has been made worse by the company's move to bring in 13 non-union strikebreaking guards on the Essex/London route. RMT argues that the six weeks' training they have received is inadequate, and the recruits are, in its view, worried by their lack ofreal experience. This, union officials argue, creates another safety danger.

 The dispute led to a series of strikes and work-to-rule actions reducing the service, on some occasions, virtually to a standstill. But C2C attempted to cover up its intransigence over safety by introducing an emergency timetable during the rest of the time when there was no RMT action -- a ploy that was calculated to undermine RMT, but which actually hit commuters.

 It created an impression of a permanent RMT action, signalling that it could become an indefinite norm. But commuters, unlike C2C management, are tired and worried by the reaction from employers whose workers cannot predict their time of arrival. There have been jobs lost over this, so such transparent moves simply anger its regular commuters.

 RMT deputy general secretary Vernon Hince said at the end of September that it was "grossly misleading" to maintain an emergency service. "Its main purpose appears to be to discredit the union," he said. On October 22 management brought in a fuller timetable with the new guards in place after the last October 18 strike, the sixth so far.

 C2C also "offered" to bring in a further 30 new guards on the day of the last strike, while slackening the pace of driver only introduction. It is still unacceptable, but it was, RMT official Derek Marr said. "something we can get around the table and discuss".

 But he warned: "It doesn't tackle our concerns regarding safety and shows no inclination to address this." He said C2C made this proposal just hours before their latest strike action. The new guards introduce a further safety issue, according to RMT, because they would not match the responsibilities of established and experienced guards.

 Despite C2C's claims that they follow the same pattern of training, disturbingly, Derek Marr said: "They are not going to be guards. They would not have control of the train doors or have operational duties. These are duties every other company in the country gives its guards. They would just be staff who can be taken off at the will of the management."

 Last June RMT accused C2C of downgrading guards to "KitKat sellers". In October, during the emergency timetable, one unnamed guard accused C2C of a failure to deploy new guards to the point where about 20, at one point, were left idly watching TV.

 This problem was highlighted at the end of last month when the back half carriages of a new Electrostar train broke away from the front section near Dagenham.

 Luckily, there was a red light in operation, so no collision risk, said C2C. Tell that to Paddington disaster survivors. Derek Marr pointed out that the presence of a guard meant that supervision was immediately on hand.

 Growing RMT anger, frustration from commuters, and rising support among railworkers has led to talk of an all-out strike crippling the entire service.

 But for the moment the war of attrition goes on, and management continues with what RMT calls its "punitive" measures rather than coming up with a "suitable agreement."

 C2C management has been criticised by commuters concerning anything from late service, cancellations, missed stations, no compensation -- all crowned by the selective 'customer satisfaction' surveys which particularly smart with peak-time commuters.

 Early morning and late afternoon commuters are genuinely fed up with the effects of this because they are not included in the surveys.

 And still the 50-year-old creeky rolling stock remains partially in service.

 It has been pointed out that Connex is due to bring in the same new trams, now operating on C2C, early next year. C2C's Electrostars were years overdue because of endless technical failures. More are promised in February 2002 for the Fenchurch Street line.

 A well attended public meeting was held the day after the October 18 strike at the Towngate Theatre in Basildon. Feeling is running high. RMT has yet to come forward with another plan of action, but it is clear how safety is being compromised for train crew and commuters: C2C is the only company that has been holding out for driver-only trains.

 The question is serious too for RMT, since the move to non-union guards risks breaking the defensive actions RMT have taken to protect its workers and the public. Practically, and on principal, this is a potentially dangerous development. But the public and RMT are not backing down on this.

 * C2C's cleaning workers are also up in arms, over pay and conditions. Grievances: Despite promises when taken on, they have had no pay rise for 11 years; inadequate protective clothing when dealing with train waste and excrement; lack of staff; few water taps and hoses. Senior managers told workers unofficially: "We wouldn't get out of bed for the money you earn.

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