The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 22nd February 2002

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Editorial - Hypocracy!
Lead Story - Too many sent home too soon.
Feature - Asylum centre blaze.
International - Peace Now! Israelis call.
British News - Student demo brings London to a halt.
More news and Diary

Editorial

Hypocracy!

ONCE more the leaders of the West are full of pious talk as they prepare to impose sanctions on yet another third world country. They assert that the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe will not be "free and fair" and have impertinently demanded that observers from the European Union be allowed to monitor the process.

 When Swedish diplomat, Pierre Schori, was obliged to leave Zimbabwe, because he was deemed to have broken the conditions of his visitors' visa, the EU imposed sanctions with immediate effect. The United States joined the chorus and threw its weight behind the EU's action.

 Just who are these guardians of "democracy" who so loudly criticise Zimbabwe's President Mugabe? Surely not a President of the United States who was elected by a minority of the American people after a protracted vote-counting shambles in Florida, where his brother was state governor.

 Surely not the European Union which has a parliament that has nothing at all to do with democracy since it has no law-making powers and which is actually run by unelected commissions dominated by transnational companies. Yes, that's them.

 These leaders couldn't care less for "democracy" and have demonstrated that through their gross interference in the i nt cmal a fl`ai rs of' countri cs all over the
world.
 What they are really worked up about is Mugabe's policy of land reform -- a long-overdue advance that was enshrined in the Lancaster House agreement. The west is angry because Mugabe intends to carry this advance through -- he and the people wait no longer.

 The western leaders fear this mood of impatience will spread. They fear it may not stop at land and will spark ideas in people's minds of nationalisation of other assets.

 We say; NO to sanctions, hands off- Zimbabwe!

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Lead Story

Too many sent home too soon

by Daphne Liddle

NHS HOSPITALS are discharging too many patients before they are ready to go home because of the continuing desperate shortage of beds.

 And this is leading to a rapid rise in the number of patients being re-admitted as emergencies within a month of being discharged, according to figures released last week by the Department of Health.

 The records of many NHS trusts deteriorated by over 10 per cent in this respect over the last year. Yet many factors are involved that are beyond the control of the NHS trusts.

 Most important are the continuing and worsening shortage of beds and the shortages of nurses and doctors.

 The hospital league tables published by the Department of Health also reveal that trolley waits for emergency admissions continue to rise.

 A recent ITV documentary revealed that in one Kent hospital, patients are routinely being kept waiting up to three days on trolleys in corridors before being admitted. The staff think it a good day when they have only 10 patients waiting on trolleys in their corridors.

 They do their utmost to keep these patients comfortable and to see they get treatment and care but it is not easy to be comfortable on a trolley.

 And being treated in such a public place is embarrassing to say the least. One 67-year-old patient who was kept waiting three days in a corridor with an infected wound said: "Every last bit of dignity was drained away. People were calling out for nurses all night. It's awful. I could cry."

 A spokesperson for the hospital said: "We don't want to be treating people in corridors but we are not going to turn people away. The nursing is good even if the surroundings are not what everyone would like to see."

 Yet the Government solution is a £102 million private finance initiative plan that would make the situation worse by reducing the number of beds.

 The DoH figures showed that the worst hospital in the country for long trolley waits was the brand new PFl flagship hospital, the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, south-east London, with more than 80 per cent of trolley patients waiting longer than four hours to be seen.

 This is because the hospital just is not big enough to meet the needs of the local population. In the last two decades seven hospitals have been closed in the locality -- five under the Tories and two under Labour.

 The PFl hospital has fewer beds than all but the smallest two of those seven.

 Other growing problems indude "bed-blocking" -- the delay in discharging elderly patients who can no longer look after themselves because of a lack of places in residential and nursing homes.

 This situation can only get worse as increasing numbers of these homes close. Local authority homes are now virtually nonexistent and private homes will only operate if the companies concerned can make a profit.

 This means that limits on what local authorities can pay in respect of each inmate, coupled with increasing but vital regulations of these homes, are leading many private companies to quit.

 In addition, the bureaucratic confusion over the Government decision to fund nursing care but not personal care has created an administrative nightmare for these homes and for local authorities which could take years to sort out.

 So while the Government is pouring millions of pounds into the NHS it is ending up in the pockets of PFI companies and private homes but failing to raise the number of hospital beds.

 Nor is the continuing low pay attracting staff to the NHS so the desperate shortage of nurses remains.

 Everyone agrees the NHS is in a desperate plight but the response of both Labour and Tories is to increase private sector involvement with the only difference being that the Tories want to go further.

 Private sector involvement is the chief cause of the NHS problems, it is time to stop administering the poison that is killing our health service and return it entirely to the public sector.

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Feature

Asylum centre blaze

by Caroline Colebrook

THE BLAZE which destroyed the major part of the Yarlswood detention centre, in Bedfordshire, for asylum seekers revealed a building put up on the cheap without fire prevention measures and slaffed by too few officers with little or no training in how to handle emergencies.

 The lives of both staff and inmates, including children, were put at risk after an argument in the visitors' area sparked a riot, according to Ed Blissctt of the GMB general union which represents 170 staff at the site.

 One officer's keys were seized as men due to be deported soon and with little to lose went on a rampage and began a fire.

 The fire spread rapidly and unchecked as the Group Four security officers were unable to gain control.

 Firefighters called to the scene were barred by police and Group Four from entering the camp for over an hour because, they were told, there was a civil disturbance.

 Mick Sytne, speaking for the Bedfordshire Fire Brigades Union, said that between 15 and 18 fire engines with 100 firefighters were kept waiting at the gates as Block D of the camp burned practically to the ground.

 After the fire, many asylum seekers were unaccounted for, with figures ranging from 15 to 40. Soon after, around a dozen were arrested leaving between 10 and 25 unaccounted for, according to different sources.

 The assumption is that they have escaped but initially there were fears that some may have died in the fire.

 Even now, no official denial has been made that anyone died -- it obviously takes time to sift through the wreckage. But it seems unlikely that any bodies will come to light now.

 There were some injuries among staff and inmates, including one officer who sustained a broken pelvis after jumping from a first-floor window to escape the blaze.

 The exact cause of the fire will have to wait for a proper inquiry. After a previous riot at Campsfield House in Oxfordshire, Group Four officers blamed "ringleaders" who were later cleared in court after security film footage showed private security staff inflicting damage themselves.

 But last week Group Four was playing down speculation that the fire and breakout half been planned in advance.

 A spokesperson said: "We do not know for sure but we do not believe that it was orchestrated. We had no contingency plans for that night. There did not appear to be anything building up."

 The real scandal has been that the camp, newly built at a cost of £100 million under the Private Finance Initiative, had no fire sprinklers in spite of the recommendations of the Bedford Fire Service before it was built and despite repeated concerns over health and safely raised by the GMB general union.

 The sprinklers would have cost £300,000 to fit but the PFI company obviously decided this was too expcnsive and left them out. The damage done by the fire is estimated at £35 million.

 The whole construction was obviously done with the cheapest materials -- the frames were wooden -- and was designeed to hold 900 people.

 The Group Four staff pay rate was just £6.83 an hour, ensuring a high turnover staff and a lack of continuity in training and knowledge of emergency procedures.

 GMB officer Ed Blissett had complained many times about inadequate staffing levels and training.

 One regular visitor to the camp reports that a combination of a shortage of staff and incompetence has led to very poor quality food, the obstruction of access to legal advice and poor or absent medical treatment.

 And a former inmate, a women teacher from Zimbabwe who was successful in her asylum application, said that inmates were treated like criminals and made to feel unwelcome in Britain.

 Many of those housed in the centre had failed in their applications for asylum. This does not mean they were bogus, far from it. Current British asylum laws make it very difficult indeed for genuine claimants to prove their case.

 Many there would have been facing deportation to home countries where they would face vioIence or death. They were desperate.

 Such harsh asylum laws are bound to provoke acts of desperation.

 Since the Fire, women and children at the camp have been bused to other camps while some of the men have been imprisoned.

 Home Secretary David Blunkett has said that if the investigation into the fire proved there had been a serious security breach, then the Home Office would be forced to house detainees in prison accommodation.

 But this would put intolerable pressure on the prison system which is already stretched beyond capacity.

 And of course it would be a serious injustice to the majority of asylum seekers who have committed no crime and are no threat to anyone.

 Prison should be reserved only for those few asylum seekers for whom there is real evidence to believe that they are criminals fleeing justice. Even then they should have at least the same basic rights of access to legal protection as any other remand prisoner.

 Since the fire, Group Four had agreed to double staffing levels at Yarlswood. Ed Blissett welcomed this but said: "Tragically, it is very much shutting the stable door after the horse has galloped off and disappeared over the horizon."

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International

Peace Now! Israelis call

by our Arab Affairs Correspondent

THOUSANDS OF ISRAELIS demonstrated in Tel Aviv last weekend calling for peace in a week of renewed Zionist terror and fierce Palestinian resistance.

 Some 25,000 Israelis, including members of Peace Now and the army protest movements, rallied in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square last Sunday to demand an end to the occupation of the West Bank and an end to the cycle of violence.

 The peace campaigners have launched a new campaign under the slogan "Get out of the territories, get back to being ourselves", and they've won the support of key elements within the army and intelligence establishment.

The Council for Peace and Security, which includes over a thousand reserve senior officers including generals and colonels in the Army and the security and intelligence services, is calling on the Sharon government to immediately pull-out from most of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and Israel's recognition of a Palestinian state.

 They might as well be talking to a brick wall as far as General Sharon is concerned. Sharon. who barely heeds his Labour coalition partners these days and still thinks he can grind the Arabs into the ground with tanks, helicopter gunships and jets. But all this has done has fired the fury of the resistance to greater heights of courage and daring.

 Over the last week the resistance destroyed an Israeli tank in the Gaza Strip -- one of their much-vaunted Merkava's, supposedly the most armoured in the world -- killing three of its crew.

 Six Israeli troops were killed when their check-point was attacked near Ein Arik in the West Bank and an Israeli Colonel was killed in a raid on a Palestinian village near Tulkarm.

 Now Israel is pounding Palestinian targets throughout the occupied territories in what Tel Aviv is now conceding is a "full-scale guerrilla war".

 Sharon's reactionary Likud bloc won the last election on the pledge of "peace and security". He's delivered neither, nor is he capable of responding realistically to any Palestinian demand.

 Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said it was time for Sharon to resume peace talks. "So far his policies of escalation and aggression and bombing have not brought security to Israelis or Palestinians," he declared.

 And the futility of Sharon's policies, and those of the Arab-hating settler fanatics whose votes he relies on, is dawning on increasing numbers inside Israel itself.

 The Palestinian uprising is now in its 17th month and the Arab resistance is now at a level not seen since the Mandate days of the 40s. Hundreds of Israelis have died and thousands wounded in the fighting.

 And Israel is being hit economically. Tourism has naturally crashed. The construction industry has inevitably contracted. Foreign investment and Israeli capital is going overseas.

 Total GNP decreased by 4.7 per cent in the second half of 2001, following a fall of 3.8 per cent in the first half of that year. Unemployment, now officially put at 209,300 is now 9.8 per cent. It is not surprising that many younger Israelis are now leaving for work in Western Europe or the United States.

 Reserve Major-General Danny Rothschild is President of the Council for Peace and Security. "Four months ago it was clear to me that the movement would grow if we continue calling up reserves to accompany settlers to music lessons and to protect real estate that has nothing to do with ideology," he told the Israeli press.

 The Council's call for the evacuation of 40 to 50 Zionist settlements in the West Bank, coupled with their other peace demands, is now gaining more and more support. The reservists' movement has launched a pamphlet called "Saying Shalom to the Palestinians". Shalom means peace" in Hebrew. It also means "goodbye".

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British News

Student demo brings London to a halt

THOUSANDS of hard-up angry students brought central London to a stop last Wednesday in a protest demanding the reintroduction of student grants and the end of tuition fees.

 The students came from all over England and Wales carrying slogans saying: "Grants not fees" and "Kill the debt".

 The National Union of Students last week reported that many students have just £29 a week to live on after paying rent, which is £13 less than they would have if claiming job seekers' allowance.

 A recent NUS survey showed that students pay on average £2,301 a year in rent. For a student on the maximum loan, without parental help, this would leave just £1,504 a year to live on £29.11 a week. This would have to cover not just food but fuel bills, clothing and travel expenses.

 Young people between 18 and 24 claiming job seekers' allowance would get £42 a week to live on.

 The Child Poverty Action Group says a single person needs at least £83 a week to live on after housing costs.

 The Government has agreed to overhaul the system of student loans and grants but so far has produced only proposals for a limited return of grants and only for students from the poorest families.

 Such a system would make little real difference and would be divisive -- especially as the Government would fund tthese grants from charging commercial rates of interest on the loans for other students.

 The NUS says that the average student can expect to graduate owing £12,000.

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