The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 22nd October, 1999

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Editorial - Odd bedfellows?
Lead Story - Union set to strike for safety.
Feature - Safety fears at secret nuclear plant.
International - Ireland's nurses strike for justice and equality.
British News - Pensioners plan bus hijack.


Odd bedfellows?

ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY years ago in the Welsh town of Llanidloes, a crowd of angry people sprang a local Chartist from arrest. The Chartists and their supporters were seeking the right of all men to vote in Parliamentary elections. Yet this local disturbance was quickly countered by the Lord Lieutenant of the County who called out the Militia.

 The incident demonstrated that Parliament was not the supreme power in the land -- clearly, armed men could be summoned at a moments notice without any House of Commons vote taking place. Those who can call out troops against working people making reasonable demands are the holders of power in a capitalist society -- it is the power of the state -- and then and now it rests with the ruling capitalist class.

 Still today it is the "Queen's shilling" that soldiers take, not the government's. The armed forces swear their allegiance to the Queen as head of state, not to Parliament or the govemment of the day.

 The nation states that now exist were created at the behest of the advancing capitalist classes who needed these defendable bases from which to operate. They needed to have control of armed forces and a state's resources to protect their own interests at home and to maintain power and prestige abroad.

 The working classes were never invited or allowed to draw boundary lines on maps or to have a say in the creation of nation states -- their role was confined to providing the cannon fodder, when necessary, to defend those so-called "national interests".

 Now the capitalist classes of Europe are compelled by competition from the United States superpower and the global scramble for markets, to make another change -- to create a new single state of Europe.

 Like the capitalist nation states, the emerging European state will aim to ring-fence its own markets and currency in order to keep itself in the big game. It will also seek to maximise capitalist class power internally to enable capitalism to step up its exploitation of Europe's working class -- a vital requirement for a system that is in crisis.

 Because the European state aims to strengthen capitalist power in relation to the working class it is unquestionably not in the interests of working people anywhere. This is the basis of our opposition, not just to the single currency, but to the Treaty of Rome on which this new state is founded.

 In Britain the ruling class is divided on this issue. A vociferous minority, represented by the present Tory leadership, want to have it all ways -- to enjoy the trade benefits of EU membership as well as wanting a goodly piece of the American action -- a position that requires a high degree of national autonomy from Europe.

 The division in the Tory Party on this issue has forced the majority section of the ruling class to rely upon the right-wing of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats in its effort to gain victory in the future referendum on the single currency and to ensure Britain goes the whole way into Europe.

 This is why a high-profile press call was made the other week to reveal Blair, Brown, Heseltine, Clarke and Kennedy displaying their unholy alliance to the world.

 Though this cross-party alliance needs to be countered it cannot be opposed by looking towards the Euro-sceptic Tories around Haig and Thatcher.

 This group in fact represents the right-wing of the Tory party and is fully committed to anti-working class, capitalist policies. As we all remember, Thatcher's Eurosceptic views did not prevent her governments from implementing a vicious monetarist programme, from carrying out the most savage attack on the trade unions, from launching an imperialist war in the south Atlantic and introducing the iniquitous poll tax.

 Yet, the new European state has to be opposed by the working class -- not least because this fundamentally authoritarian set up strengthens the capitalist dictatorship by imposing direct rule by bankers and big business -- its toothless parliament is as fake as any virtual reality computer game.

 The struggle against the capitalist European state is not separate from the class struggle that is waged within each of the EU's member states. What is urgently needed in Britain is for the class nature of the EU and the class issues involved to be increasingly raised within the labour movement since we need to win the trade unions and TUC to stand An the workers' side in this fight!

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Lead Story

Union set to strike for safety

By Daphne Liddle

RAIL UNION RMT is set to strike in protest at changes to the duties of train guards that will undermine their role as trained railway workers with prime responsibility for safety.

 More than 80 per cent of the members voted to strike and guards employed by 18 rail companies will stay at home on 29 October.

 This will have a crippling effect on the railways. RMT general secretary Jimmy Knapp said: "Most trains cannot legally operate without a guard, so all InterCity services will be affected.

 The presence of trained guards is a public safety issue and currently this is at the forefront of public awareness as, after the Paddington rail disaster just two weeks ago, revelation after revelation uncovers more safety hazards on out railways.

 On Monday night there was another rail crash near Lewes when the Gatwick to Hastings train seems to havejumped a red light as it pulled away from the station and ran into the back of an empty train that was reversing across points ahead of it.

 Fortunately this incident was at low speed and there were no serious injuries.

 But once again it highlights the need for the Automatic Train Protection system that should have been fitted to all trains in Britain after the Clapham rail disaster a decade ago, but was dropped because of cost.

 Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott after the Paddington crash, asked to be kept informed of all spad (signals passed at danger) incidents.

 As we go to press, he has been informed of 16 such incidents in just the past two weeks.

 Last week it was revealed that Shenfield in Essex was the second worst place in the country for signals at red being passed. One driver, who didn't wish to be named, told an Essex newspaper that long working hours and tight schedules are endangering lives. He said: "They really aren't interested in driver welfare at all -- as long as the train runs, they are happy."

 Mr Prescott has called for a rail safety summit meeting next week to review the crisis of confidence in the rail industry.

 He is considering taking the responsibility for rail safety away from Railtrack because of the obvious conflict of interest between profit and safety in that company.

 But he angered rail unions by suggesting that from now on all drivers who pass a red light should face compulsory retraining.

 The unions claim this is scapegoating the workers.

 Laurie Holden, a train driver who is the health and safety representative at Charing Cross Station, has reported that his employer, the train operator Conner South East has cut drivers' practical training from 390 hours to 220.

 He says drivers are doing shifts of over 10 hours a day and must then do additional unpaid duties.

 When interviewing drivers about spad incidents managers refuse to allow any reference to fatigue.

 And he claims that evidence given by drivers in four spads at London Bridge was ignored because they denied they had passed a red signal and blamed the signal box equipment.

 And he claims some drivers have never used a fire extinguisher.

 This highlights the conflict of responsibility when the trains and the tracks and signals are owned by different companies who do not see any need to acknowledge or investigate a spad if they see it as the responsibility of the other.

 Meanwhile an independent report cast doubt on the safety of 19 signals in the Paddington area because they were unclear or difficult for drivers to see. They said a further eight should be simplified.

 The report by signalling consultant Roy Belland former British Rail head of safety Peter Rayner, also criticised the unnecessary extent of bi-directional working -- where trains travelling in different directions use the same track at different times.

 Mr Bell said: "I have heard rumours about how poor the signailing was. But when I looked at it I was surprised how poor it was.

 Some signals are dangerously obscured, some come into view and disappear as a train goes towards them because of overhead line interference. One is "quite simply hidden behind a bridge".

 The Health and Safety Inspectorate has allowed the station to re-open as the prescribed changes to the signals are made but with a 25-mile an hour speed limit in the whole area.

 Last Saturday thousands of protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square to demand better safety systems on the railways and to call for the dropping of further planned privatisations.

 John Prescott has dropped all mention of the proposed sale of part of the London Underground to Railtrack. If the Paddington crash had not yet again revealed that company's appalling record on safety, that deal would probably have been signed and sealed by now.

 The privatisation of our air traffic control system has also been slowed down.

 Public opinion is demanding that both privatisations be dropped now. We must not stop there, we must keep up the demand for the renationalisation of our railways.

 Railtrack and the rail companies are full of excuses, crocodile tears and buck passing. But they have shown repeatedly they do not heed warnings oversafety standards. The government has no effective control over them.

 Only when our railways are once again publicly owned and run by one body can the government hope to really improve safety standards.

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Safety fears at secret nuclear plant

by Caroline Colebrook

THE CAMPAIGN for Nuclear Disarmament last week called for the closure of a secret small nuclear installation at the Rolls Royce plant in Derby.

 The call followed claims by workers at the plant that there was no facility for containing radiation if a serious accident happened there.

 Their concern was heightened after the recent leak at a similar plant in Tokaimura, Japan. Three workers had been seriously injured in that incident and 36 irradiated.

 The plant in Derby has always been listed as making propulsion systems for Trident submarines. But it also processes highly enriched, bomb-grade plutonium for the Ministry ofDefence. This work has been classified until recently.

 They also told CND that there was no off-site emergency plan to deal with a nuclear accident.

 The chief inspector of nuclear installations, Laurence Williams has played down the alarms.

 He said the inspectorate had "not identified any serious safety flaws" and said if they had, they would have "taken immediate action to stop the operations or processes concerned".

 But he said there "was room for improvement" after observing an emergency exercise last March.

 There were, apparently, concerns over "command and control" issues in the event of an emergency at the plant.

 Last week a Rolls Royce spokesperson said: "We have now clarified the position, changed our procedures and practised them three times.

 "Last week we had an emergency exercise involving the emergency services which was observed by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. Afterwards the NII said it was now satisfied with our procedures."

 Nevertheless, off-site procedures, which could involve a mass evacuation of Derby, remain the responsibility of the emergency services and Rolls Royce officials still do not seem to know what the off-site plan would be.

 Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon happens to be a Derbyshire MP. He has said there is no reason to close the plant.

 But Liberal Democrat Euro MEP for East Midlands said the secrecy showed "utter contempt" for local residents.

 "It is astonishing that such potentially dangerous work should have been conducted in secret in the middle of one of the most densely populated areas of the East Midlands," he said.

 "It is adding insult to injury that no public emergency plan has been lodged with the local authorities."

 The government may be happy with the level of safety at the plant but CND chairperson Dave Knight is still very concerned.

 "Urgent answers are needed," he said, "to some very serious questions. Why is there no emergency plan? Are there any containment procedures for a critical accident?

 "As Tokaimura showed, accidents do happen and when they do the effects are long-lasting, if not deadly, for the local populace. This plant should be closed down immediately."

 And CND warned that an accident at Derby could be more dangerous than at Tokairnura because of the type of materials being used.

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Ireland's nurses strike for justice and equality

by Our Irish Affairs correspondent

AT 8am last Tuesday 27,000 of Ireland's nurses, representing over 80 per cent of the profession overall, went on strike placing pickets at hospitals throughout the Irish Republic.

 Nurses are exasperated with the government's failure to redress low pay, deteriorating conditions and fears of a big exodus from the service. This has long been in the making and has been ignited by the pay belt-tightening of the social partnership deal.

 Talks resumed on Wednesday between the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and the government to come to an agreement on a formula for talks.

 At the same time, the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) -- largest of the four nurses' unions -- has demanded direct talks with the health minister Brian Cowen.

 But the strike, which enters its, second day as we go to press, is about the general crisis of the service already so familiar in Britain.

 Colin Keaveney of the Service, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) and Galway Nursing Alliance (GNA), said: "This is an opportunity for nurses to vent their anger at the crisis in the hospital service generally."

 He said the politicians should recognise that they had "been on an emergency footing (at Univedty College Hospital Galway) for the past year due to staff shortages." A common problem throughout.

 Helen Murphy of the GNA said: "We realise it won't be easy, and it is very stressful working in hospital for nothing." But as a public health issue she was concerned to point out: "People don't realise how seriously the nurses are taking this -- it is in the interests of the patients and not just the nurses."

 At the Mater Hospital, Dublin, two patients -- one wheelchair bound the other on crutches -- came out to support the nurses picket line.

 One of them, William Hamm, an apprentice carpenter, was worried that a long strike would mean longer getting better from a serious assault two weeks ago and causing a greater risk to his career.

 Nevertheless, he was in no doubt about his priorities: "I think it is wrong that the government won't give the nurses what they want. If I had the money I would give it to them myself ... The job they have to do is unbelievable."

 His partner-in-solidarity Tommy Fitzgerald said he owed his life to them. It was "scandalous" and they "should be getting medals".

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British News

Pensioners plan bus hijack

by Renee Sams

PENSIONERS all over Britain are planning a Day of Action on 24 November that will involve the "hi-jacking" of buses to become "Pensions Buses".

 The "hi-jackings" will coincide with rallies in London and in major town centres throughout Britain.

 Southwark pensioners have already given this tactic a trial run. It involves a group of eight or more pensioners boarding a bus heading for the local town centre, or in London for Whitehall and Parliament Square.

 They will occupy as many window seats as possible and display posters stating the pensioners' demands while one or two will distribute leaflets to other passengers.

 On the trial run, 12 Southwark pensioners bearded a number 12 bus at 11 am, travelling to Oxford Circus (around four miles) and then returned on another number 12.

 On both journeys they displayed A3 size posters in the windows. The bus crews (the number 12 still has drivers and conductors) raised no objections, nor did other passengers and many expressed support for the pensioners' demands.

Those who took part say it was an exhilarating experience and look forward to doing it again. They advise at least eight "hijackers" for a single-decker bus and 20 for a double-decker.

 They checked with the legal department of London Transport before they began and found there are no regulations to prevent the display of posters so long as the driver's vision is not obstructed.

 The distribution of leaflets is allowed only with the permission of the operator so it is wise to gauge the attitude of the driver or conductor before starting.

 The pensioners advise that if the crew is unco-operative, the party should get off the bus and wait for another.

  But they say the most important point is to inform the media  in advance to make sure the protest cannot be ignored at any level, from local rag to Fleet Street giant.

  They also say use all possible tactics to draw public attention to the Pensions Bus, including  leafleting along the route immediately beforehand and using horns and rattles while on the bus.

  They warn this could be deemed a nuisance and so illegal if crews or other passengers complain but their experience is that most are sympathetic.

  The National Pensioners' Con vention is organising a mass rally and lobby of Parliament on that day and advises that many pensioner groups may have to divide forces, sending a small delegation to the Westminster lobby while the majority get involved in local activities like bus "hijackings" or city centre sit-downs to stop the traffic.

  The NPC calls for all action to be dignified and non-violent and  must be seen as representing the views of the majority of pensioners, not just a militant minority.

  The NPC warns that if civil disobedience is involved, all those taking part should be in formed they could be arrested. And it warns to be prepared for bad weather.

 The rally in London will begin with a picket outside Richmond House in Whitehall to coincide with Prime Minister's Questions.

 Others will rally in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons, together with colleagues from across the country at 2pm.

 At 3.30pm there will be a mass lobby of MPs.

 The demands will be kept very clear and simple:

 * the restoration of the link between the basic pension and average earnings; and

 * a substantial increase in the basic pension.

 These were also the demands of hundreds of angry pensioners last Tuesday as they queued to lobby their MPs on the re-opening of Parliament.

 This was yet another major event in the pensioners' national campaign to defend the value of the basic state pension.

 More pensioners stood opposite Parliament with placards expressing their disgust at the miserable 73 pence a week increase in their pensions next year.

 East London pensioner Len Aldis said: "It's an absolute scandal. It comes nowhere near dosing the gap. It only goes in Income Support. For pensioners, life will become more difficult."
 Another pensioner noted: "Seventy three pence doesn't even buy a cup of tea in the House of Commons. What are they trying to do to us pensioners?"

 Many were holding small bags of peanuts to show what they thought of the miserable increase.

 Pensioners from south London also sent 75-pence packets of peanuts to MPs for Morden, Wimbledon, Croydon, Sutton, Streatham and Carshalton to express their disgust at the rise.

 For more details of the 24 November events contact the National Pensioners' Convention, 47 Chalton Street, London NW1 IHY, phone 0171 388 9807, fax 0171 388 9808.

  The Greater London Forum for the Elderly is organising a conference on Grey Power in Europe -- the United Kingdom and Germany compared, on the political participation of older people in those countries.

 For details and booking forms contact Joan Newbould, Greater London Forum for the Elderly, the pensioners' Centre, 47-51 Chalton Street, London NWI 1HY, phone 0171 383 4008, fax 0171 387 3222.

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