The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 21st August, 1998

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Editorial - No return to internment! & Capitalism fails Russia
Lead Story - Rail safety experts warn passengers.
Feature - Mounting debts force students to quit.
International - Omagh bomb fails to scupper peace process.
British News - Glasgow teachers face poll tax pay cuts.


No return to internment!

 THE tragedy in Omagh last weekend was almost certainly done to try to scupper the Good Friday Agreement. The group responsible for the bombing argue that the Agreement fails to fully meet Nationalist and Republican demands -- in particular it does not end British colonial rule over the north of Ireland.

 But this all-or-nothing strategy flies in the face of the Irish referendum result and the recent Assembly election both of which showed a clear majority of the people in favour of the Agreement and the peace process.

 It is true that the Agreement does not fully meet the just demand for Irish self-determination in the short-term. But it does take the situation forward, it brings advances for the nationalist communities in the struggle for civil rights and opens the door for further progress to be made.

 Sadly, the Omagh bombing, while it has brought no political gain at all for anyone, has led to reactionary calls for a return to internment. In the past this policy enabled the British state to openly operate outside the law and led inevitably to the stepping up of oppression and the wide spread persecution of nationalists.

 The New Communist Party condemns the tragic Omagh bombing. We completely oppose any return tu internment or the introduction of any other repressive legislation.

Capitalism fails Russia
RUSSIA'S return to capitalism was a disaster from the very start. Millions had their first experience of unemployment. Inflation wiped out the personal savings of workers and left pensioners, the sick and disabled out in the cold as their fixed incomes drifted further and further away from the rising cost of living.

 Poverty struck at the veterans of the courageous battles to defeat the Nazi war machine. Children, who just a few years before would have enjoyed summer holidays, sports and cultural activities, had their world shattered by the growing poverty of their families and the destruction of the once enviable Soviet system of childcare.

 It wasn't long before we heard reports that child prostitution had emerged, begging on the streets was commonplace and crime of every kind was booming. And at the same time a minority of spivs, crooks, mafia drug-lords, carpetbaggers and other scum were scrambling over everyone else to become a new super-rich elite.

 Since then of course the Soviet Union has been broken up, wars have been fought on the former Soviet territory as the newly exposed precious assets and raw materials lit up the dollar signs in the eyes of foreign and home-grown capitalists alike.

 Meanwhile, the imperialist camp put out the flags to welcome the counter-revolution in the former socialist countries. It declared that socialism was a failure and hailed the traitors who had led the final act of betrayal as fighters for "freedom and democracy".

 In reality this meant nothing more than the freedom to be exploited, robbed and degraded, and the new-found democracy meant Russia ending up with a corrupt drunk in the Kremlin.

 Imperialism of course had no intention of helping the new capitalist states -- in keeping with the ethos of capitalism it merely seized the opportunity to help itself.

 Western governments and the International Monetary Fund gave loans in exchange for promises to hasten the economic "reforms" -- mainly speeding up the process of privatisation. The loans saddled Russia and the other republics and countries with huge debts.

 Russia's oil and minerals are being plundered by foreign-based companies, anything of value is easy prey. At the same time, it is common for workers to not even get their wages for months on end. A quarter of Russians officially live below the poverty line and most are poor.

 The shock waves from the serious economic crisis in Asia is a final straw for the Russian economy which has now been forced to devalue its currency. This can only mean a further rise in the cost of living and greater hardship for the Russian people.

 Once the Soviet Union was regarded as a super power -- last week some households in London got leaflets through their letterboxes asking them to put old clothes and shoes into a bag for collection -- the charity was to help "the people of Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Belorussia" -- so much for capitalism!

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Lead Story

Rail safety experts warn passengers.

by Daphne Liddle
 RAIL PASSENGERS and rail workers are being put at risk by engineering sub contractors "cutting corners" in order to speed up work, according to a report issued last week.

 This follows a survey by the Institution of Occupational Safety (IOSH) and Health and found that one in four of these professional health and safety experts felt there is less commitment to health and safety in the rail industry than there was five years ago -- before privatisation.

 And one third of these experts said they felt their status in the industry has declined over the same period.

 Speaking on behalf of the IOSH, Stephen Fulwell said: "We have found that sharper commercial focus in the privatised rail sector, combined with a increase in the outsourcing of engineering projects, may be encouraging some sub-contractors to "cut corners' under the pressure of delivering to tight deadlines and budgets."

 The IOSH represents 23,000 health and safety professionals. Mr Fulwell said they are also concerned about delays in the withdrawal of old Mark One trains, which give passengers limited protection in crashes.

 The proposals for their withdrawal were first made a decade ago.

 He added: "We want to make sure, given the feedback from our members and the upward trend in trail accidents, that rail companies and the franchising directorate are putting health and safety high enough up the corporate agenda."

 The Health and Safety Executive revealed last week that, excluding suicides and trespassers, 47 people died on the railways in 1997-98 -- nearly double the figure for the previous year.

 The concerns about falling safety standards among the subcontractors employed by Railtrack for track maintenance have also been voiced many times by the RMT transport union.

 And they were one of the factors in a long-running dispute earlier this year between union members and the sub-contractor companies.

 The IOSH report came just a few days afteryet another damning set of government figures on the punctuality and reliability of train services provided by the privatised rail companies.

 The figures, from the government's franchise office, shows that punctuality standards are falling in 75 per cent of the total rail network in the year up to last June, compared with the year before that. There were also more cancellations.

 Franchise director John O'Brien said the record ofthe 25 train service companies is "very unsatisfactory".

 The records show that the standards declined even though fewer trains were delayed by track and signalling problems.

 Mr O'Brien has given the companies seven weeks to draw up and submit plans on how they are going to improve the situation. Some of the worst offenders were given only four weeks.

 But he has limited powers to give firms an incentive to improve matters. The Tory government which dished out the franchises set standards so low that 11 firms are continuing to get a total of £6 million in bonus payments even though their standards are falling.

 The worst offender, again, was the Virgin West Coast service with 29 per cent of its Scottish route trains more than 10 minutes late, compared with 22 per cent last year.

 Next came Great Western, with 16 per cent of trains more than 10 minutes late, compared to 10 per cent last year.

 Many commuter lines are also falling in their standards. Conner South Eastern's Kent link services ran 16 per cent of its trains late.

 Silverlink in north London had the worst record for cancellations -- three per cent.

 The franchise office also published the rail companies' own "customer satisfaction" surveys which show widespread and growing dissatisfaction among passengers.

 Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said the operators' record is unacceptable.

 But instead of promising to take them back into public ownership when the franchises expire, he said Labour's Strategic Rail Authority would in future impose tougher penalties.

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Mounting debts force students to quit.
by Caroline Colebrook
 THE BURDEN of mounting debt is forcing up to one in five students to quit their courses, according to a survey published last week in the university guide, Push.

And another report Irorn the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) shows that new students are opting For vocational courses, in marketing and business, rather than traditional academic subjects like the sciences and education.

 The report in Push reveals that over the last year the average student debt has risen From £1,400 to £1,700 with the worst cases owing over £12,000 after three years in higher education.

 Students in London where living and travel costs are highest, have run up the worst debts, averaging £2,000 annually. This is an increase of 20 per cent on last year.

 Students in London have to find an average £60 a week for their rent, compared to £51 outside the capital. Living in halls of residence is no longer a cheap option.

 The colleges that provide them do not make an excessive profit but they do charge a "fair market rent".

 The newer universities, mostly former polytechnics, are less likely to have halls of residence, leaving students to fend for themselves in the private market from the start of their studies.

 Many students now find themselves limited to seeking courses only at local colleges so they can continue to live with their parents.

 Push editor Johnny Rich said: "The bottom line is that students are getting poorer and poorer and poorer. What we have to ask is whether the contribution of higher education as a whole is being matched by the investment of society as a whole."

 Next year the situation is due to get worse as for the first time students have to face £1,000 a year tuition fees as well as their own living costs.

 All students will have to pay these fees unless their parents' combined income is less than £23,000.

 The National Union of Students supported the findings of the survey. "Students are giving up their courses increasingly for financial reasons," said an NUS spokesperson, "they just cannot afford it and the situation is going to get worse.

 "We do not believe students or their parents should have to pay for their tuition."

 The Ucas report found that applications for college courses with the GNVQ as their main qualification are increasing as opposed to those applying to university with A levels.

 GNVQs are more vocationally based access courses to higher education compared to the traditional more academic A levels.

 And the number of applications to higher education on the basis of GNVQs has risen in the past three years from 9,380 in 1995 to 29,757 in 1997.

 In the same period the number applying on the basis of their A level passes has dropped.

 And the kind of courses they are applying for has shifted considerably. Applications for physics, chemistry, astronomy, archaeology, geology, geography, oceanology and material and environmental sciences have dropped by 26 per cent since 1995, from 110,000 to 80,000.

 Applications for courses in humanities and the arts are down by 10 per cent over the same period.

 And applications to education degree courses have fallen by 36 per cent. This can only lead to a major crisis in teacher recruitment.

 Also the total number of mature students applying has fallen by three per cent.

 Ucas chief executive Tony Higgins said applications for vocational courses such as marketing, computer science and software engineering are rising.

 He said: "The trend is towards courses that are likely to lead towards better paid jobs and away from jobs such as those in the caring professions.

 "There could be a link between loans and tuition fees and students deciding to opt for vocational courses which are more likely to lead to employment."

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Omagh bomb fails to scupper peace process.

by Steve Lawton
 THE OMAGH bombing last Saturday, which has left 28 people dead, many in critical condition among around 100 still hospitalised in the north of Ireland, was swiftly condemned by parties and governments concerned to see the peace process succeed.

 This included the British and Irish governments as well as all other signatories to the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein in particular. The Queen, US President Clinton, European Commission President Jacques Santer, South African President Nelson Mandela and the Pope added their voices.

 The Real IRA -- a small breakaway Republican group opposed to the agreement -- claimed responsibility and then contacted the nationalist daily Irish News with a message declaring a suspension of all military activities.

 The Irish government is sceptical of the announcement and intend, in consultation with Britain, to press ahead with tougher security measures against any instigators of such acts in the future.

 But calls for the return of internment without trial have so far not been taken up by either Irish or British governments. Britain's northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlem said she didn't want to "take sledgehammer powers to crack a nut, which has been the difficulty with internment in the past."

 And Sinn Fein, whose leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness have significantly roundly condemned the act, advised against going down such a road.

draconian measure

 Speaking from Belfast to the US ABC's Good Morning America programme Last Sunday, Gerry Adams said that no one really believes "that type of draconian measure will work."

 He said that Sinn Fein believed "honest dialogue, inclusive dialogue is the only way to end conflict. I want to see this bombing at Omagh made a thing of the past."

 A meeting at Stormont last Monday was held between British northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlem, Irish minister for Justice Mr O'Donoghue, RUC chief constable Ronnie Flanagan and Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne.

 It was subsequently announced that they are considering a tightening of bail couditions, stepping up border security operations and making it easier -- by amending the Irish Offences Against the State Act -- to convict for membership of proscribed organisations.

 Suspects could be detained for up to seven days, the right to silence may be curtailed and they may also he reconsidering the early release of prisoners.

 If Republican groups opposed to the Agreementand Assembly persist there is the risk of state repression developing with a wider focus on Republicans and Nationalists putting the peace process at risk and turning the clock back. As yet, the security calculation is finely balanced.

 Whatever the nature of the Real IRA's dispute with the RUC over how such a damaging indiscriminate result occurred, it gave diehard anti-agreement unionists another opportunity for Sinn Fein bashing.

 They have been pressured to finger the Real IRA culprits: when clearly the RUC know who they are. And they have been told yet again by Ulster Unionist Party leaders that no ministerial positions should be given Sinn Fein until all IRA arms are surrendered.

 But again, demilitarisation is the issue here. For instance, Sinn Fein's Irish parliamentary representative Caoimhghin O Caolain is raising questions about why it is that the British Army is building two new road blocks in the trouble-free south Armagh villape of Bessbrook.

 The residents, who are subject to an 8pm-8am curfew, believe they are being used as a human shield by the British Arrny. The situation has reached the point where the South Armagh Farmers' and Residents' Committee are seeking US help to put pressure on the British government to demilitarise.

ending armed struggle?

 Besides the Real IRA's announcement of a cessation of its military campaign, the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) -- linked to the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) -- has called on all Republicans engaged in military acts to end all "armed struggle".

 This is a move, while also treated with caution, that had been expected before the bombing. Whether this heralds the last gasp of such attacks that was so much a feature of the last 30 years until recently is not yet clear, but threats are already being made that the Ulster Volunleer Force (UVF) may reconsider its ceasefire.

 But if the announcements represent anything, it could now mean a smoother introduction for Assembly proceedings.

 This is clear from the previous major confrontation at Drumcree. The firebomb killings of the three young Quinn brothers in their Ballymoney home, precipitated deep divisions in the Orange Order and brought forth a reasoned unionist response from a key section in the chaplaincy which ended that confrontation. And the Orange Order continues to reel from its impact with resignations and talk of a split.

 But nothing like the attention was given to the largely successful accommodation reached at Derry between the Bogside Residents' Group and the loyalist Apprentice Boys just over aweek ago.

 That demonstrated why and how the peace process can work, and why the Omagh bomb, Drumcree and all the other deaths during the peace talks, has proved to be so counter-productive in failing to stop the move forward.

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British News

Glasgow teachers face poll tax pay cuts.
TEACHERS in Glasgow will be among the first of the city's employees to face wage deductions to cover outstanding poll tax debts.

 Several hundred teachers may be caught by this belated attempt to balance the books on this unpopular and unworkable Tory tax.

 Glasgow City Council is starting to take action against members of its own staff who have been identified as poll tax defaulters.

 It did not do so before because of concerns that it may be breaching the Data Protection Act by comparing its own payroll with the list of poll tax defaulters.

 But after lengthy discussion with the Data Protection Registrar, the council has decided to go ahead with wage deductions.

 It has now identified 7,500 council staff who are believed to be in arrears amounting to £3 million, going back as far as 10 years.

 This figure includes several hundred teachers who this week received letters warning them to contact the Glasgow Sheriff Officers Scott and Company to make arrangements to clear the debt.

 It advises them to make arrangements for regular wage deductions and adds: "If no arrange ment is made to clear your outstanding arrears, then Sheriff Officers will take steps to arrest your wages."

 Even if the move succeeds it will make little impression on the total £130 million outstanding poll tax debts owed to the council.

 Much of this in unrecoverable as many involved are untraceable or simply too poor to be worth pursuing.

 Local councillor Tommy Sheridan, who played a leading role in fighting the poll tax under the Tory government, pointed out that the government is trying to give the impression that poor local services are caused by poll tax debts rather than by cuts in government funding, which makes up 85 per cent of local authority budgets.

 He said: "When it was fashionable to oppose the poll tax, council leader Frank McAveety was with us on the barricades.

 "But now that Labour wants to make it popular to oppose the poll tax protesters, they come up with this stunt.

 "What they want people to forget is that without the opposition to the poll tax it would still be in place and that even if it just increased by inflation, would now be standing at £505 a year for an individual and a family with three adults in the household would owe over £1500. That's what people fought against."

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