New Worker Online Archive
Week of 21st February 1997


Editorial - One law for them.......
Lead Story - Fortunes for rail bosses while passengers wait
Feature - Threat to council housing grows
International - Striking oil workers arrested in Iran
British News - Campaign for east London hospitals



Editorial


One law for them.......


LAST week Home Secretary Michael Howard unveiled yet more of the government's reactionary plan for so-called legal "reform".

The most serious of these proposals seeks to take away the guaranteed right to trial by jury given to those accused of "either way" crimes -- that is crimes which fall between very serious offences, which are automatically referred to a higher court,and minor offences which are always dealt with by magistrates.

If Howard gets his way, as many as 35,000 cases a year could be affected The pretext for this monstrous attack on our legal and civil rights is to speed up the judicial system.

The historic right of accused persons to be tried by a jury of their peers is increasingly under attack It has been particularly criticised in complex fraud cases where, it is alleged, jurors may not have fully understood the evidence. This is said of course when the great and the good have disagreed with the verdict.

The British judicial system, like every other pillar of our society, is designed by and for the ruling capitalist class. But the jury system, although integrated into the bourgeoise setup, is something we should vigourously defend. It is the only place in the legal system where working class people can participate. Without the jury system working class defendants would have virtually no chance of ever being judged by their peers.

Justice can't be measured by the speed with which cases are dealt with nor with the cheapness of the procedures.

The Home Secretary's other idea is to tackle juvenile crime by imposing sanctions on parents. This would indude the use of fines, and ludicrously, curfews and electronic tagging of parents judged to be failing to control their children and children who are unco-operative with the authorities.

Leaving aside the fact that similar measures tried in the United States were a failure, there is an important civil rights issue at stake: Children under ten years of age cannot be prosecuted and convicted; it therefore follows that the parents of children under ten could, under Howard's proposal be punished without their child's offence being first proved in a court of law.

It is yet another example of the Tories' "Teflon politics" -- nothing must stick to them! Though they have been in continuous office for 18 years they are not going to accept responsibility for anything.

After years and years of high unemployment, the wholesale privatisation of housing stocks, serious underfunding of state education and massive cutbacks in local government spending it is little wonder that society is under stress.

The Tories are very keen on moralising. They talk about "family values", teaching children the difference between right and wrong and they want religious assemblies and lessons in schools.

But what would young people have learnt from successive Tory governments?

They would see politicians who espouse "family values" exposed in sleaze scandals. They would see little that was moral in the ethos of "market economics" which rewards the rich and greedy and regards the rest as so many lame ducks.

The whole system the Tories so keenly support is rooted in exploitation and the elevation above all else of private profit-making. This ethos corrupts our society and lies at the heart of its social malaise.

Many young people fear they are on the scrap heap even before they have started out, Many feel neglected by society at large. If some behave in an anti-social way it is not entirely surprising.

But the government does not admit to anything. Instead it tries to pin the blame on teachers and parents and now seeks to make cheap election points by talk of criminalising "bad" parents and effectively placing them under house arrest, which is what electronic tagging amounts to.

While the Tories boast about their toughness in regards to "law 'n' order" and shackle the trade unions with legislation, they are equally busy removing democratic controls by the process of privatisation and loosening restraints from the capitalists who dominate the heights of the economy.

The two approaches are part of the same piece. The increase in repressive legislation and so-called legal "reform" is designed to curtail the inevitable rising tide of protest as the deregulation of capital unleashes higher levels of exploitation on the working class.


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Lead Story


Fortunes for rail bosses while passengers wait



HUNDREDS of trains were cancelled last week by the privatised company running South West Trains leaving thousands of commuters waiting in the cold. As a result, Stagecoach, which operates the SWT franchise, could become the first privatised rail company to be fined.

The delays and cancellations followed a management decision to layoff 70 train drivers who were offered redundancy. The company said it could be weeks before things were back to normal.

"Stagecoach is well named", commented one waiting passenger, "they're always being held up."

Even the transport minister John Watts criticised the company,He said it was "somewhat inept in cutting the number of drivers before it had finished the re-training of others to take over the affected routes.

inaction

Shadow transport minister Glenda Jackson said: "Ministerial inaction shows that the government is totally unable to control the rail privatisation monster it has created. Every train that is cancelled represents another nail in their privatisation policy."

Stagecoach described the debacle as "teething problems". But the new working practices, giving rise to the so-called teething problems, have presumably been introduced to cut labour costs and increase profits Making profits is of course the primary purpose of privatisation.

All the privatisations that have taken place have led to huge job losses and sooner or later, higher prices to consumers.

While jobs are cut and commuters wait the new rail bosses are making vast sell-off profits.

One company which rents rolling stock, Eversholt Leasing, is expected to fetch almost 900 million when it is re-sold. That is nearly twice as much as the company paid for it when it was bought in 1995.

In the House of Commons last Tuesday Labour leader Tony Blair pointed to the massive returns thought to be gained by some directors. Eversholt Leasing's managing director Andrew Jukes stands to turn his initial investment of 110,000 into a retum of up to 20 million.

Other directors will also make millions when the sale goes through. The buyer is expected to be a subsidiary of HSBC, a financial giant which also owns the Midland Bank.

"profiteering"

Mr Blair described the gains as "profiteering" and said it was an example of the government "favouring the few at the expense of the many".

He went on: "Isn't there the sharpest contrast between the massive windfall gains made on the sale of a public asset, that is run effectively through public subsidy, and the misery of thousands of commuters yesterday at Waterloo station, who saw their trains cancelled, their service destroyed, because a train company laid off a tenth of their drivers?"

This is not the first profiteering sale. For example, Porterbrook was a train leasing company which was sold to its own management for 527 million. That was then sold-on to Stagecoach for 825 lastyear. These massive profits over short periods of time indicate that these former public assets were sold-off far too cheaply in the first place.

And while this government remains in office the policy is unlikely to change.

Scotrail is now in the frame for sell-off. The favoured bid is the coach company National Express. But any deal has to be agreed by the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority which pays over half of the subsidies.

Meanwhile Scotrail crews of conductors and on-train ticket examiners will be taking a further round of four one-day strikes.

RMT assistant general secretary Bob Crow said: "If Scotrail believed they were enhancing their chances of securing a privatised franchise through a management buy-out by taking a tough line with their own staff, they have come unstuck".
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Feature


Threat to council housing grows


by Caroline Colebrook

TORY determination to do away with council housing altogether was stepped up last week when John Major announced that if re-elected, his party would set up special council house "hit squads" to force local authorities to sell empty homes.

This will be included in the Tory manifesto.

The teams will be modelled on those sent in to take control of failing state schools and will be targeted purely to make political capital out of "Labour's housing failure".

They will attempt to put all the blame for the abysmal state of Britain's council housing on to Labour local authorities, although the government itself is respnsible for this through its very tight control of local authority purse strings and its refusal to allow spending on repairs or new building.

Certainly the quality of council housing has deteriorated sharply over the last 18 years.

The Tories' right-to-buy policies have removed most of the good quality housing into the private sector, leaving councils with the blocks of flats whose tenants do not want or cannot afford to buy.

A recent survey by the charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, showed that what remains of council housing now tends to be occupied by the elderly, the unemployed, those unable to work and single parent families.

Families who are slightly better off, with one or two partners working, prefer to move out and try to buy their own homes.

This means it is harder to achieve balanced communities within council estates and they are becoming more and more the ghettos of the poor and disadvantaged.

In turn this makes the estates even less attractive to anyone who can afford to get out.

The report described the process as 'reverse gentrification".

The research was led by Roger Burrows of the Centre for Housing Policy at York University.

It showed that as few as 22 per cent of heads of household in social housing now have jobs and the pattern of "sink" estates is being repeated all over the country.

Mr Burrows said: "The right to buy meant that relatively good quality social housing was sold into private hands. Those left behind tended to be the elderly and relatively young.

"This is leading to an ever narrowing social base. Those with the lowest income, the worst social, health and drug problems are being concentrated in the social sector."

The research also showed that 38 per cent of the heads of household in this sector are aged 65 or over and are long-established tenants who do not wish to take up the option to buy.

North of the Border, a survey by the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland, found that thousands of residents -- both tenants and owner-occupiers -whose homes are in urgent need of repair will have to continue to put up with bad conditions because of a switch in funding priorities by the newly-constituted local authorities.

All the new, single-tier Scottish local authorities face their second year of existence with yet another round of vicious spending cuts on all fronts.

And the care and repair schemes, which give assistance to elderly people needing urgent repairs to their homes, have been badly affected.

The Tories' answer to deteriorating council homes is to bring in private investment -- to promise to unlock the funding coffers on condition the estates are sold off to private landlords.

But most council tenants still stubbornly want to remain with their electable and accountable landlords rather than risk everything in the uncertainties of the market economy.

Another survey, by the Empty Homes Agency, last week found that nearly 800,000 homes in England, or one in 25 of all homes, remain empty.

And the government itself is the worst culprit with up to 20 per cent of homes owned by the Ministry of Defence standing empty -- even though the ministry has transferred 1,500 to housing associations and sold off another 2,400 to the Japanese investment bank Nomura.

The survey found that 790,000 of all homes were unoccupied last April and of these the majority, 667,000, were in the private sector.

Councils were responsible for about one tenth of the total - around 79,600 homes - whole housing associations were responsible for around 23,000 empty properties.

Homeless people and squatters last week demonstrated outside Lambeth Town Hall, south London over the sale of council houses by auction.

Many of the homes being sold still have tenants or squatters living in them.

The protesters warned that up to 300 face eviction in the next few weeks and that prospective buyers have not been told that the houses are still occupied.
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International


Striking oil workers arrested in Iran


by Chen Ming of Xinhua in Tehran

OVER 300 oil workers were detained by armed police during a demonstration staged in the Iranian capital, Tehran, last Sunday.

Over 2,000 oil workers were demonstrating outside the Iranian Oil Ministry, protesting against low wages and demanding higher pay.

Armed police broke up the demonstration and detained a large number of demonstrators - about 13 bus-loads according to an eyewitness.

Shortly after the demonstration began, hundreds of security forces were deployed on the streets backed up by thousands of plain-clothes members of the secret police. The police were fully equipped with anti-riot gear including batons and tear-gas.

Protesters shouted slogans in support of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and demanded that the Oil Ministry take steps to resolve their pay and welfare problems.

Workers at the oil refinery 15 kilometres south of Tehran have been on strike for two days demanding higher wages.

A workers' representative said that an agreement has been now reached between management at the refinery and the workers and they have now gone back to work.

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British News


Campaign for east London hospitals


by Rene Sams

HUNDREDS of east marched through east London last Saturday in protest at even more cuts in hospital services forced by government spending cuts.

The London Borough of Hackney, one of London's poorest boroughs, is facing huge cuts and St Andrew's Hospital in Newham has been told it must "save" 4 million.

Staff at St Andrew's have been told that from March the hospital cannot afford to continue emergency anaesthetic cover.

Patients needing an emergency operation may have to wait in pain or face travelling to another hospital. In some cases such delays could end in death.

Meanwhile the government is planning to sell off more of British Rail and planning to sell off all of the London Underground at bargain prices and in the City only a few miles away huge profits are being made.

A school nurse told of the 20 per cent cuts being made in the school nursing service which will mean nurses having to cover a larger number of children and deliver a much poorer service.

A teacher from Islington spoke of the massive cuts which are now affecting all services in the borough - "cuts that are damaging our children's futures". He called for full support for a demonstration to be held on 1 March "in defence of schools, health and all services needed by the people in east London boroughs".

Diane Abbot Labour MP for Hackney, called for full support for the Save the East London Hospital Campaign against the cuts, which are "making peoples' lives a misery".

"There is a need" she said, "to keep up the pressure and continue to fight right up to the election and after as well."

Labour's shadow health secretary Chris Smith last week announced that a future Labour government would introduce recuperation beds for patients ready to leave hospital but too ill to return home.

The purpose would be to free hospital beds for patients needing urgent treatment without sending elderly patients home too early.

Labour has claimed that up to 9,000 hospital beds are blocked at any one time by patients whose medical treatment is complete but who cannot be discharged until arrangements are made for their future care.

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