The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 21st May, 1999

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Editorial - Pressure tells on NATO.
Lead Story - Resistance grows to imperialist war.
Feature - Rail engineers dispute one year old.
International - Bye-bye Bibi.
British News - Blair ducks and dives over welfare cuts.


Pressure tells on NATO

THE leaders of the Nato alliance are showing signs of strain. Its bombing campaign has not brought the quick and easy victory it expected. Nato has used up its Cruise missiles. It is afraid to deploy the vulnerable Apache helicopters in combat and its bombers' "mistakes" are scoring an increasing number of own-goals.

 Little wonder the alliance leaders are at sixes and sevens over what to do next. The Greek government has now openly said it wants to see a pause in the bombing. The German government is under pressure from its Green coalition partners and the Italian government, which has never been happy with the war, does not want any escalation. The British government, to its shame, is trying to talk-up a ground war while the United States -- the supposed leader -- doesn't seem to know what to say.

 Certainly, a lot of the tough talk from Britain is designed to rattle the Yugoslav government. But it also reflects the ruling class's growing concern that it could be Nato, not Yugoslavia, who will lose face, friends and validity.

 If Blair was a statesman instead of a fellow-traveller of US imperialism, he could use this moment to argue for a diplomatic resolution of the war. He could inject some reality into Nato's internal discussion by holding to the view that serious talks will require a cessation of the bombing -- that there is in fact a difference between "peace" talks and "surrender" talks and that it is peace that is in the best interests of all the peoples concerned, including the displaced people of Kosovo and Yugoslavia's Balkan neighbours.

 This is also true for the majority of people in the Nato countries themselves who are currently picking up the tab. for this multi-billion pound war.

 It is absolutely intolerable that the Blair government should have proposed cuts in disability benefits at the same time as it is urging Nato to escalate its costly war. It seems the government is quite happy to spend vast sums on causing people in Yugoslavia to become'disabled through injury but wants to save money on the benefits paid to those already disabled in Britain -- the country and people it is supposed to be serving.

 This whole business raises yet again the need for Labour Party members, including those affiliated through their trade unions, and indeed all organised workers, to take up the, fight for a system of progressive taxation in which the rich are made to pay.

 If the costs of Britain's imperialist ventures, which serve the interests of capital anyway, had to be met by the rich instead of the mass of working people, the situation would be very different -- peace might stand a chance for a change.

 So far the balance sheet for this war shows that millions of people have lost while a vety tiny number have gained. Clearly the people of Yugoslavia have suffered in every conceivable way -- there has been terrible loss of life, thousands of civilian injuries, growing unemployment due to the destruction of workplaces and shortages of all basic amenities. Their country, its economy and infrastructure has been devastated.

 The people of Kosovo, far from being the beneficiaries of the war, are now among its greatest losers. Nato bombs and the fighting between Yugoslav and KLA forces has led thousands to flee.

 The non-combatant countries along the River Danube, have had their economies hit by Nato bombers blocking the river that is a key trade route. And the whole region is threatened by the ecological damage caused by the intensive bombing.

 No one in the Balkans is better off. To find the few winners we have to look further afield. Gains have certainly been made for the rich shareholders of US (and to a lesser extent, British) weapon producers and the manufacturers of military aircraft. Other transnational firms in the West will also have gained lucrative contracts in supplying Nato's forces. But these winners are a tiny minority.

 Once again an imperialist war is turning coffins into bucks while pretending it is saving the world -- in truth it is trying to rule the world and enable the rich to get richer and the powerful even more potent.

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Lead Story

Resistance grows to imperialist war

by Andy Brooks

AS RUSSIAN envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin flies to Belgrade for more talks with the Yugoslav leadership Nato continues to pound Yugoslavia nine weeks into the Balkan War. But mounting opposition to imperialist aggression is growing on the streets and within the ruling circles of Europe and United States.

 Greece has now openly broken Nato ranks to call for a bombing pause while virtually the entire Greek people violently opposed to it. In the northern Greek port of Thessalonika, the Nato staging-post for Macedonia, British and other Nato convoys are being stoned and harassed forcing them to skulk through in the middle of the night to avoid the protesters.

 The Germans have ruled out a ground-war and so have the Italians leaving Tony Blair alone in calling for an invasion of the defiant Balkan state. And back in the White House Bill Clinton is becoming increasingly reticent -- aware of the mounting domestic opposition to a war he may not win.

Nato losses

 Behind this lies the fact that the air-war is not going the way the war-mongers expected. Yugoslav reports ofa heavy toll on the Nato war-machine were confirmed by the Western journalist John Pilger, this week.

 Wriiing in the London Guardian on Tuesday he said: "Nato is suffering significant losses. Reliable alternative sources in Washington have counted up to 38 aircraft crashed or shot down, and an undisclosed number of American and British special forces killed. This is suppressed, of course."

new provocation

 But reports are coming in that the imperialists are preparing a provocation to justify an invasion of Yugoslavia. Reportedly a number of American and German pilots have been training on Yugoslav-made Croatian Air Force "Galeb" and "Jastreb" planes painted in Yugoslav Air Force colours which would be used to bomb Kosovan Albanian refugee camps in Albania. Yugoslavia would be blamed for the attacks and then Nato would trumpet that it had another "just cause" to invade.

cease-fire now

 People's China has said again that Nato's aggression must end before any political settlement ofthe crisis and the visit of Albanian President to Beijing has been cancelled. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday "Halting the Nato bombing is a precondition for a political settlement as peace cannot be established under the threat of bombs."

 Throughout Britain demonstrations and protests are taking place demanding an immediate end to the bombing of Yugoslavia.

 Ruling class propaganda pretends none of this is taking place. They deny the monstrous war crimes of their air armada which go on day and night. They think they can do what they like. We must pis o ve the m wrong. Demand a cease-fire now!

  5 June: National Demonstration in London. Assemble 1.30 Victoria Embankment for rally at Hyde Park.

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Rail engineers dispute one year old

by our Railways correspondent

AT 00.01 hours on Monday 10 May, the railway maintenance engineers on the West and East Coast main lines began a week of strike action against GTRM and Balfour Beatty Rail, the two companies which respectively have run these areas of rail infrastructure since Tory privatisation in April 1996.

 We believe prospects for success in our aims are good, especially since the victories of the AMEY workers in South Wales and Jarvis workers on B lines in northern England.

 Scottish workers on First Engineering have also recently gone a long way towards victory.

 The dispute has been in progress for 12 months now, involving up to 12,000 workers at the peak last summer.

 The aim is to win a restructuring of pay and conditions on the terms our members want, not those of the "privateer" managers.

 The RMT rail union drew up a "blue book" early in 1998 outlining these aims, including Large increases in basic rates of pay, holidays, shorter hours (37 hours maximum a week guaranteed) and a much more beneficial sixtier grading structure which will eliminate favouritism as much as possible.

 From the start of action in May and June 1998, the various new managements tried lies and intimidation on a large scale and they were ofcourse fully aided in this by the press and TV blackouts on publicity for the strikes and also by the full collusion of Railtrack PLC and other rail companies against the RMT and its loyal members.

 This action is also very sensitive for right wing elements in the RMT and the Labour Party. It is the biggest industrial dispute since Labour came to office two years ago and coincides with growing unease in the British and Scottish TUCs.

 Trades councils and local Labour Parties and many "left" bodies have done good solidarity work with the RMT engineers, despite all the obstacles faced.

 Four men, all branch officers of the RMT and at the same time representatives a t various levels, have suffered victimisation and harassment.

 These are Steve Hedley of GTRM, Barry McDonald of Balfour Beatty Rail, Davy Hamilton of First Engineering and Algy Johnson of Centrac.

 Hundreds more members have suffered other forms of harassment (supervisions and so on), though not as bad as the sackings and/or police involvement suffered by the four members mentioned above.

 Despite this, RMT membership has grown. Thousands of agency workers on contracts to Jarvis joined last year after four of their mates were sacked for not crossing an RMT picket line in Merseyside for example.

 All in all, most management tactics have brought about the exact opposite of what they intended. Jarvis management made a laughing stock of themselves last summer by hiring a helicopter and turning up somewhere in Cumbria (I think) to "deal with" some failed points.

 To the great amusement of a train crew, they were incapable of doing anything and whirled off again after several minutes of humiliation.

 Financial penalties for delays fall on the companies if trains are delayed. They also lose contracts because they are always trying to undercut each other as well as "carve up" the RMT. Such is their nature after all.

 Jarvis, the biggest company involved in rail maintenance, abjectly surrendered in March against a one-week strike called by the RMT executive, which was backed rock solidly, especially in industrial Lancashire, West and South Yorkshire and Manchester-Merseyside.

 The strike lasted only three days when management (again flying in by "chopper") grovelled before RMT executive members for renewed negotiations on much improved offers.

 This was in addition to adding £300 a year on basic rates of pay on the spot!

 This win has greatly encouraged the members on GTRM and Balfour Beatty. What Jarvis members can do, so can they. This is the current RMT executive line. We want a share of the massive post-privatisation profits.

 Solidarity will be vital. We need to raise funds, form solidarity groups, send messages of support and publicise the dispute in left ornanisations everywhere.

 Most rail workers are sick of privatisation, just like most members of the general public. The tenacity displayed in this long dispute is proof of this.

 Politically, many rail workers feel let down by the Blair government. We were promised in 1996 that a Labour government "would create a publicly owned and publicly accountable rail system".

 Labour has not renationalised anything. In fact John Prescott is now extending privatisation disguised as "public-private partnership" to the London Underground.

 Join our fight and we can and will succeed. Send donations and messages of support and any informadon of possible use to us to: RMT Engineers' Dispute Hardship Fund, NU Rail Maritime and Transport Workers, Unity House, 205 Euston Road, London NW1 2BL; phone 0171 387 4771, fax 0171 387 4123.

 With many thanks and fraternal greetings from myself and all RMT engineers and their families and well-wishers.

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Bye-bye Bibi

by our Middle East Affairs correspondent

OVER 100,000 Israelis packed Rabin Square in the heart of Tel Aviv last Monday to eelebrate the overwhelming victory of the Labour Party in the country's elections and the defeat of Benyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu in the separate poll for the premiership.

 Labour romped home in the premiership contest riding on public anger at Netanyahu's stalling on peace as well and the anti-working class policies of his administration.

 Prime Minister Netanyahu, the leader of the hard-line Likud bloc, threw in the towel well before the last votes were counted. With exit polls pointing to a historic victory for Labour standing on the "One Israel" ticket, the man who had blocked all peace moves with the Palestinians, resigned in tears and told his followers he was also quitting as party boss.

 Netanyahu's fate was sealed last weekend when three minor candidates pulled out of the premiership race. The maverick Israeli Arab candidate, Azmi Bishara, withdrew first following immense pressure from the communists and Israeli Arab leaders. Disaffected Likud politician Yitzhak Mordechai -- who was sacked as Defence Minister by Netanyahu -- followed soon after telling his supporters to vote Labour. The final knife was stuck in by another Likud dissident Benny Begin, when he withdrew leaving a straight race between Netanyahu and Labour leader General Ehud Barak.

 With the votes from the armed forces, diplomats and prisoners still to be counted in the tally stands at 55.9 per cent for Barak and 43.9 per cent for Netanyahu. In the 120-strong Israeli parliament, the Knesset, Labour is on track for 27 seats and its left social democrat allies Meretz 9. Likud is down to just 19 and the rest will go to 12 other small parties including the communist led Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) projected to hold 3 to 4 and the Arab Democratic Party with 5 seats.

 The biggest single minor party remains the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas which won 17 seats in the new Knesset. Barak has ruled out any deal with their leader, Arieh Deri, a former minister in the Likud government who got four years for fraud.

 But the new Israeli leader has aIready started horse-trading during the 45-days grace he's got to form a government while Netanyahu stays on to run a caretaker administration. He will certainly won't want to rely on Hadash or the votes of the Arab Democrats in patliament even though all the progressives and Israeli Arabs advised their supporters to vote for him to get Netanyahu out.

 Labour may try to build a coalition with some of the religious and centre parties, though some Israeli pundits speculate that Barak may even offer Likud a place in a grand coalition to agree a final settlement with the Palestinians. "We want to form the widest government possible," was how Yossi Beilin, a top Barak aide, put it.

 Ehud Barak is Israel's most highly decorated officer. A protege of slain Labour premier Yitzhak Rabin, he's known as a "hawkish-dove" who will want to strike a tough bargain with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat when the peace talks resume.

 The Labour leader has pledged to implement the American brokered Wye Agreement, signed by Netanyahu but never honoured, which provides for a further 13 per cent Israeli pullout from the West Bank and he's promised to evacuate southern Lebanon within 12 months. He's publicly accepted the inevitability of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, But Barak has also said that Jerusalem will remain the "undivided capital" of Israel including occupied Arab east Jerusalem and that no Zionist settlements will be dismantled in a final settlement with the Palestinians.

 Barak's victory was welcomed by Arafat and the leaders of Egypt and Jordan. It was treated with caution in Damascus. And the Palestinians under occupation or in the refugee camps in the Arab world will wait and see what this new Israeli leader actually does.

 "The essential element here is not to waste time," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. "It is also important to revive, in the minds of Palestinians and Israelis, hope in peace,".

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British News

Blair ducks and dives over welfare cuts

by Daphne Liddle

THE GOVERNMENT last Monday took a step back from its proposals to cut benefits to the disabled after some 70 MPs threatened to vote against the measure.

 But by Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Tony Blair was declaring that he would not back down and said his government has the "courage" to see through welfare reform.

 Monday night's epic debate on the Welfare Bill lasted 13 hours. Scores of Labour back benchers were ready to vote against the highly controversial clauses to cut Incapacity Benefit by making it means tested.

 And the Tories, who just a couple of years ago were wielding the axe on benefits themselves, were happy to discomfit the government by backing the rebels.

 So Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling, rather than risk a defeat, decided to abandon the debate and postpone the decision.

 The debate must now be rescheduled. The Labour rebels are warning this will not help the government. Their opposition to the cuts will remain just as firm whenever the vote is taken.

 The government wants to make Incapacity Benefit means tested. It says that 44 per cent of people who retire early on the benefit have well above average incomes.

 This threatens those who have been awarded compensation for industrial injuries or who have redundancy settlements. It also fails to take into account the extra living costs of the disabled.

 The government has also been making back door attacks on the steeply rising numbers claiming benefit for stress-related complaints -- virtually accusing them of shamming.

 In particular there has been a rise in the number of women quitting work with stress-related illnesses.

 This rise is more than fully accounted for by the increase in working hours endured by workers in Britain and by the double workload carried by most women -- work and home.

 It is not surprising that after years of working very long hours, carrying heavy responsibilities that a growing number are reaching a point of collapse.

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