The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 22nd August, 1997

Workers of all countries, unite!

Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition

Please feel free to use this material provided the New Worker is informed and credited.

Editorial - Blackmail & Promises promises.
Lead Story - Labour's candyfloss project.
Feature - Pensioners demand proper health service.
International - Cambodian troops overrun Ranariddh camp.
British News - Privatisation brings more misery for rail users.



FOR three consecutive years the people of north Korea have suffered natural disasters. There were two years in which severe floods ravaged the harvests, destroyed equipment, buildings and eroded much of the soil in farming areas.

The people worked heroically to repair the damage and replant the devastated fields. It was vital that this year's harvest was good.

Tragically, this was not to be, as the country has now been afflicted by a drought which has once again ruined desperately needed crops.

No one in the West can deny that these natural disasters took place or pretend not to know the consequences of such widespread damage. It is obvious that any country suffering three consecutive lost harvests needs urgent humanitarian aid.

The United Nations has recognised there is an urgent need for aid to be sent to one of its member countries.

But the financial assistance from the West, including the wealthy United States, that was agreed by the UN, has still not been fully met. This is in sharp contrast to the warm-hearted help and solidarity from China, Syria, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Vietnam and many other non aligned countries in Asia and Africa.

It is increasingly apparent that the US is dragging its feet in the hope of exploiting north Korea's current difficulties to force political concessions. In particular, it wants the government of north Korea to accept the US enforced division of the Korean peninsular.

This is nothing short of blackmail - defy the will of Washington and suffer the consequences.

It is more important than ever to stand in solidarity with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and to expose and denounce the long-standing aggressive policies of the US towards that country.

A stand has to be made if human suffering from natural disasters is not to be used as just another bargaining chip for the imperialist powers.

Promises promises.

THERE are promises and there are promises. Labour's promise not to increase taxes on the rich is, it seems, a golden promise they insist on keeping. On the other hand, the promise to cut NHS waiting lists is clearly not so sacred and can be pushed off the immediate agenda.

The two pledges are of course two sides of the same coin. The NHS and other areas of social spending cannot be properly funded without a shift in the government's position on taxing the rich.

The government argues that its promise to cut hospital waiting lists cannot be carried out this year because the under-funding of the health service by the Tories was more severe than it had thought.

There is no doubt that the incoming Labour government found the NHS in a serious condition when it took office last May. They reported at the time that Trusts and health authorities carried a combined debt of over £300 million from the previous year.

But this means that it could just as easily argue that because the public services are so seriously starved of cash, it will not be able to ring-fence the taxes of the wealthy after all.

It is intolerable that we should be told to expect another hospital beds crisis this winter and that waiting time for treatment will get longer and longer. It is absolutely disgusting that this situation should go hand-in-hand with a continuing tax bonanza for the rich.

Like the Tories, the Labour leaders assert that a higher top rate of income tax would deter investment and lead to unemployment.

This is a self-serving argument expounded by the ruling class. The lack of investment in Britain's manufacturing industry has not come about because there is too little capital -- the capitalist class is awash with capital.

Under the Thatcher government top tax rates were slashed, enriching the already wealthy to the tune of billions. At the same time manufacturing industry continued to decline -- the handout to the rich was clearly not used to create, or save, manufacturing jobs.

If the top rate of tax was raised and the revenues used to restore the NHS and other public services, not only would we all benefit from the improvements in social provision but jobs would be protected and others created.

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Lead Story

Labour's candyfloss project.

PRIME MINISTER Tony Blair has ordered the setting up of a new government-led "Social Exclusion Unit". Its aim, said Cabinet Minister Peter Mandelson, is to "attack the greatest social crisis of our time".

Addressing the Fabian society last week, Mr Mandelson explained that there are a "growing number of our fellow citizens who lack the means, material and otherwise to participate in economic, social, cultural and political life in Britain today".

The unit will begin by focusing on 1,300 inner-city housing estates where poverty is widespread.

But apart from an expected announcement this week from Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to provide some extra cash for the Rough Sleepers Initiative, the grand-sounding project is like a puff of candyfloss -- a little sugar and a lot of air.

Labour still says it will not raise taxes on the better-off and it still intends to early on with the insane and costly nuclear weapons programme. As a result, public spending will continue to be under attack.

Poverty, it seems, is not going to be tackled by supporting struggles for higher wages, policies designed to help redistribute wealth or by boosting social spending, which are the only ways it can be tackled in a capitalist society.


"New" Labour's plan is very cheap, and for the ruling class, very painless. It seems to mostly consist of organisational changes to streamline services and the introduction of more effective targeting of resources.

Targeting of course usually means giving a tiny bit of help to those on the very lovvest incomes by squeezing other working people who are marginally better-off. it fosters divisions in the working class and lets the rich off the hook.


Meanwhile, the government, which says it is so concerned about poverty, has ignored its own social security advisers and intends to go ahead with plans to scrap extra benefits for lone parents next year.

Social Security Secretary Harriet Harman, is now expected to introduce legislation that will cut lone parent premiums for new claimants by up to £ll per week. The government expects to save £240 million next year by this measure.

Social security minister Frank Field is flying kites on more far-reaching changes. The aim is to cut welfare spending.

One idea he has floated is to give regional or local benefit offices "freedom" to manage their own budgets. It would, said Mr Field, free the welfare state from "Soviet Union-style collective central control".

Fortunately his ridiculous Cold War language has not struck a chord and his cost cutting idea has met with an outcry of opposition. There was outrage at a proposal which clearly threatened the national welfare system and could even take us back to the days of Poor Law and parish relief.

The kite was lowered and within hours Mr Field was saying that there was no intention to have varying rates of benefit from one part of the country to another.

But we should remain on our guard. Government kites can be trimmed a little and re-flown another day.

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Pensioners demand proper health service.

by Caroline Colebrook

THE GREATER London Pensioners' Association last month issued a firm demand for the Labour government to restore the National Health Service.

In a press release, the GPLA said: "The service has been run down for years and there is clearly a need for the extra money that the government has promised but considerable re-organisation is needed."

The GPLA called for greater co-operation between the NHS and locally provided social services.

And it called for a big improvement in accident and emergency units and in the provision of intensive care beds.

"These services are vitally important for all sections of the community but for the elderly, any shortfall is life-threatening," said the press statement.

"The problems of this situation are greatly aggravated if individual pensioners also suffer age discrimination.

"When elderly patients cannot be discharged from hospital because local social services have nowhere to place them and others have their operations cancelled several times because of the shortage of intensive care beds, we face a serious situation that cannot be tolerated."

The pensioners are going to need every shred of support they can muster -- from all age groups -- if their demands are to be taken seriously by this government.

Just last week Health Secretary Frank Dobson admitted that Labour will not be able to deliver on its election promise to cut hospital waiting lists "for several years" -- too late for many of today's pensioners.

Figures for last February show the NHS waiting lists had clocked up a record high of 1.1 million. This is attributed to a higher than expected number of elderly patients being admitted to hospital last winter, which has created a bottle-neck for non-urgent cases.

But any government which does not expect large numbers of elderly people to need hospital treatment in any winter and make plans accordingly lacks the foresight of the average school child -- or is taking us, the public, for idiots.

Meanwhile, even in midsummer, there are many reports of the NHS breaking down in different ways.

Earlier this month the inquiry into Ashworth Special Hospital met to consider whether psychopathic patients should be kept in hospital.

Peter Fallen QC, who is chairing the inquiry, said there were strong arguments that such patients are not medically treatable. And since they cost £100,000 a year each to keep in hospital, the state should give up on them.

The inquiry actually compared this to the £22,000 a year necessary to keep a person in prison - more or less saying that is the proper place for serious psychopathic patients who cannot be treated.

This cruel "solution" to an NHS funding problem ignores the current funding and overcrowding crisis in our prisons.

The Swindon and Marlborough Hospital Trust is facing a criminal prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive for failing to ensure acceptable health and safety standards in one of its hospitals.

Inspectors have alleged that management failed to lay down guidelines to ensure the safety of staff and patients.

It seems the case boils down to a failure to ensure enough staff are around to cope when potentially dangerous situations occur -- a classic case of shortage of staff and funds.

In another incident, a young mother has sent letters of complaint to her local hospital, the health authority and her MP after being left alone in hospital while giving birth.

Angle Barker was left in a room at Colchester General Hospital for 25 minutes before the birth with just her husband Errol, a motor mechanic, for an attendant.

When the baby started to come more quickly than expected, he rang the emergency buzzer for a nurse in vain. He was forced to deliver the baby himself.

"I was subjected to the most horrifying experience of my life," said Angie Barker. "When I gave birth, the nurse was nowhere in sight. The last time I saw her was around half am hour earlier when she just mopped my brow."

The baby is now doing well and the young couple are not going to sue the hospital. Errol Barker said: "This incident shows the hospital can't cope already. We are not suing it as there is no point taking money from a health service that is already struggling."

And if government intends to push ahead with Private Finance Initiative deals, the health service of the future could be in even worse shape.

These deals will keep local health authorities and trusts struggling to meeting private finance bills for 60 years or more -- and at the end they will still not own the hospital buildings.

Plans for these deals already involve cutting beds but as much as a third in order to keep costs down.

This has prompted doctors to warn of even longer waiting lists and more patients being discharged early.

Professor Harry Keen of the NHS Support Federation said: "These deals are concocted with minimal public and medical professional involvement between private finance consortia on the one hand and hospital trust and health authority appointees on the other.

"They involve the payment of vast sums of public money over many years in leaseback agreements which will set the pattern of NHS hospital care provision for generations.

"But they fulfil no general healthcare strategy, their detail is cloaked in commercial confidentiality and they target profitability rather than predicted needs."

So we must ask why this government is prepared to break all its election promises bar one - the pledge not to raise taxes on the rich.

After all, in the long run, the tax payers will be paying far more for a PFl-run health service in rents, interests and so on than they would with the traditional NHS where the taxpayer only has to stump up for nurses, doctors, buildings, beds, equipment and so on.

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Cambodian troops overrun Ranariddh camp

TROOPS loyal to Cambodian leader Hun Sen have driven Prince Ranariddh's supporters out of their last base in the country at O'Smach, on the border with Thailand. The government's victory now seems to confirm the ascendancy of second premier Hun Sen, who removed Ranariddh from office as first premier last month, after accusing him of treasonable dealings with the Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

Ranariddh, the former leader of the royalist Funcinpec party, was ousted after fierce fighting between troops loyal to him and Hun Sen in early July. He was then replaced as first premier by a new Funcinpec nominee, Ung Huot, and this has been approved by the Cambodian parliament and the acting head of state, Chea Sim.

Prince Ranariddh has been touring the world seeking international support for a come-back, and both camps want the crucial endorsement of ailing King Norodom Sihanouk, who is having medical treatment in Beijing.

Ranariddh has had little success. The ASEAN group of southeast Asian countries has called on the new government to hold informal talks with the prince to reach a reconciliation, but apart from that Ranariddh has drawn a blank.

The upper-hand remains with Hun Sen. Last week he went to Beijing, together with Ung Huot and Chea Sim, to meet the king and the Chinese leadership.

The delegation briefed Sihanouk on the latest situation in Cambodia and the king expressed his satisfaction at the restoration of law and order in the country.

"During the five-hour-long talks, Hun, Chea Sim and I promised to comply with the king's wish to co-operate with each other closely," Ung Huot said.

Hun Sen declared that all the Cambodian people needed the king. "We must adhere to the constitutional monarchy and fight against anybody who seeks Lo overthrow this system," he said. But he dismissed talk of reconciliation with Ranariddh, who he said must be brought to trial for his crimes.

Ranariddh loyalists claim to still hold pockets of territory inside Cambbodia, but the onset of the rainy season will halt all military activity for the next few months leaving the government's forces firmly in place.

The prince's hopes now rest on Funcinpec, the royalist party he led until his downfall. But they seem, at least for now, willing to accept the new situation and are carrying on without him.
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British News

Privatisation brings more misery for rail users.

RAIL passengers throughout the country are still getting a very raw deal when seeking accurate information about train services.

And last week the rail regulator, John Swift, threatened fines of £500,000 a month from next month if the rail inquiry service does not improve.

He says they must answer 90 per cent of all phone inquiries and the information given must be accurate.

Journalists from the Guardian newspaper tested the system recently and found they had to wait up to 50 seconds before anyone answered the telephone. One call was answered in 20 seconds but then put on hold for three minutes.

Those answering repeatedly confused Liverpool Street Station, east London, with Liverpool itself.

The inquirers were advised to use services which were later discovered to be not running because of engineering works.

And when one asked for a check that the service would run, even though it was on a bank holiday, they were told: "It's in the computer so why shouldn't it? I haven't heard of any bank holiday timetable. We're far more sophisticated than that now. We're privatised."

In fact many services do run quite differently on bank holidays, and with different companies running different services, it is very confusing for passengers.

And clearly the rail companies are failing to keep their own inquiry service staff properly informed.

Anyone planning to use South West trains to get away from it all on this coming bank holiday weekend maybe in for a nightmare journey.

The privatised rail company hasjust issued 200-page booklets and a metre-long fold-away timetable warning that hundreds of services are due to be cancelled over the weekend -- normally one of the busiest of the year.

This is the same company which cancelled thousands of trains earlier this year because it made too many drivers redundant.

But this time apparently it is Railtrack, the company that owns the rails, to blame. It has chosen this weekend to install and test part of a new £70-million resignalling scheme between Woking and Surbiton.

A Railtrack representative said the disruption to services was "an unfortunate side-effect" of the work. And he promised the work would be finished by next Tuesday.

But a similar operation last February overran badly, leaving packed commuter trains at a standstill for hours, as Railtrack was forced to issue flags to staff to get the trains moving again.

The answer is not to keep hitting the companies with fines - mere flea bites compared to the profits they make -- but to bring the whole rail network back into public ownership.

Only then can it operate again as a co-ordinated, whole system.

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