The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 23th November 2007
Daphne Liddle speaks at LRC
Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition
Please feel free to use this material provided the New Worker
by our European Affairs Correspondent
A WAVE of strikes is sweeping across Europe as workers
fight-back against a ruling class offensive throughout the European
Union. Hungarian railway workers walked out on Wednesday in a six-hour
national protest strike against cuts and lay-offs. German Deutsche Bahn
(railway) passenger and freight services were paralysed for three days
by train and bus drivers demanding substantial pay increases.
But the major battle is in France where hundreds of thousands of
workers from other sectors are walking out as the transport strike,
which has brought most of the rail, metro, tram and bus services to a
halt, continued into a second week.
The French state-owned SNCF rail company claims its network has been
hit by a “concerted campaign of sabotage” but union leaders have
condemned the attacks and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned
that the culprits would be “severely punished”.
But more and more workers are taking action. Last weekend the Paris
Opera and Bastille Theatre were shut down as staff joined the public
transport strike that is grinding France to a standstill. The
Sarkozy government is now in deep crisis facing stoppages by civil
servants, lawyers and magistrates over plans to cut jobs,
and Air France workers are also going to take industrial action
over pay. Sarkozy has said he’s willing to talk but he’s made it clear
that the centrepiece of the overhaul, which raises the retirement age
for public employees,was not negotiable.
French energy workers, who began a third 24-hour strike on Monday
night, have cut nearly nine per cent of capacity at nuclear plants. And
teachers, postal workers, air traffic controllers and hospital staff
held a 24-hour stoppage over planned job cuts and higher wage demands
on a Day of Action on Tuesday, supported by students protesting
against a law that paves the way to the privatisation of universities.
Tuesday’s mass action was called by eight unions that cover 5.2 million
public sector workers, coming out in defence of purchasing power and
against the loss of 22,900 jobs. Teachers, for their part, are enraged
at the proposed loss of 11,000 posts in national education, announced
by the Government for the next school year. Hospital and mail workers
joined in as well as workers of the telecommunications company, France
Tens of thousands joined street protests in Paris, Rouen, Strasbourg,
Marseilles, Grenoble, Lyon and other cities. The French capital’s two
airports and Marseille airport in the south suffered delays and
According to the left union federation, the CGT, across France up to
700,000 demonstrators took to the streets on Tuesday. Sixty-five per
cent of primary school and 58 per cent of secondary school teachers
stopped work. Students at 44 of 82 public universities joined the day
of action, fearing privatisation of their colleges and 350,000 to
700,000 public employees took to the streets late at night, causing
huge traffic jams in Paris and other cities.
The transport workers’ strike, which started on 13th November,
was triggered by government plans to scrap “special” pensions
privileges enjoyed by 500,000 workers, mainly in the rail and energy
sectors, as well as by more than one million pensioners.
French workers have a constitutional right to strike and to take four
weeks paid holiday a year. A majority have a legally enforceable right
to their job. Eighty-five per cent of French workers retired on a full
pension at 55 and some workers, like train crews and crews on fishing
trawlers, have the right to retire with a full pension at 50. College
education is essentially free, except for some fees.
The old reactionary French government last tried to overhaul
“special” pensions in 1995. The move sparked three weeks of strikes
that forced then-President Jacques Chirac to back off. Chirac’s heir,
Nicolas Sarkozy, hopes to continue where Chirac left off in a drive to
smash the unions and strip the French working class of the gains its
made since 1945.
Sarkozy wooed workers with the promise of a substantial “guaranteed
minimum wage” during the May election, but they’ve seen through this
meaningless promise which in any case, violates European Union laws.
What they have seen is more tax breaks for the rich and plans that
would increase working hours and reduce the purchasing power and
standard of living of working people. Over two million French workers
take home no more than €1,005 a month, which is barely more than €817
poverty threshold, calculated by the official statistics bureau (INSEE).
The Sarkozy government, the direct representative of France’s
capitalists and landowners, has opened talks with some unions to try
and isolate the transport workers and divide the country’s three major
union federations. What he wants is the British “model” where free
collective bargaining is fettered by Tory labour laws that Labour
hasn’t repealed or the American capitalist system where unions are
barely tolerated at all.
Whether the French ruling class get their way depends on the
determination of the French working class to defend their way of life
and their hard-won gains. The next few weeks may be decisive.
Caught on the rock
THE SAGA of the slow collapse
of the bank Northern Rock has filled the headlines this week and shown
up the whole capitalist system for the dangerous and unstable way of
running a society that it is. Even the capitalist press has had to
condemn the readiness of the Labour government to lend £24
billion of taxpayers’ money in a “secure loan” to bail out that bank
that could no longer persuade other banks to help it out.
For once it is not just this paper but the mainstream press that is
pointing out how many schools and hospitals could be funded by
£24 billion. Many are remembering how last year the Government
told NHS foundation hospital trusts that is was prepared to stand by
and let them go bankrupt if they did not balance their books – which
they were forced to do with drastic cuts in services, beds, wards, even
hospitals and of course thousands of jobs. Those cuts hurt in very real
terms, with patients experiencing delays to treatment, longer travel to
get treatment, expensive drugs denied to people in desperate need,
treatments for minor but painful conditions cut and of course the
misery of redundancy for nurses and other health workers. Among those
made redundant were nurses recruited overseas to fill gaps who were
then threatened with deportation.
Others are comparing the Government’s totally inadequate response to
workers who have lost their pensions when their employers and their
employers’ pension schemes went bust a couple of years ago. Thousands
of people who had worked hard and saved hard were left to face an old
age in poverty. That’s how capitalism works; failing companies go to
the wall so that others can profit and prosper and it’s their workers
who pay the price.
Some are remembering the collapse of the Farepack saving scheme that
allowed people on low incomes to save small amounts throughout the year
towards Christmas expenses. The public sector union Unison points out
that many of Farepack’s 150,000 low-paid women members have been forced
into a cycle of debt by the loss of their savings, estimated at
All these deserving cases the Government has turned down, insisting
that market forces must take their course because the money market is
their religion and they are fanatical believers.
So why are the shareholders of Northern Rock an exception, to be bailed
out with £24 billion of taxpayers’ money, contrary to the rules
of the almighty market? It is because Northern Rock is just the tip of
a very unstable iceberg of big banks that have overstretched themselves
in their greed for profit and now face huge losses. Allowing one to go
under could start the avalanche that will see all the rest collapse.
The immediate cause behind the crisis is the continuing fallout from
the American sub-prime mortgage lending scandal that has resulted in
literally millions of low-income, hard-working American workers – many
of them single parents – sold mortgages with repayments that shot up
beyond their ability to pay. Now millions of good homes in America
stand empty and boarded up after the people who were trying to buy them
were thrown out into the gutter as the mortgages were foreclosed.
Unfortunately there is no cyber version of Pretty Boy Floyd, the bank
robber, to come around and destroy the banks’ records on their debtors.
These homeless Americans are the real victims of the crisis in a
catastrophe that resonates back to the financial crash of the 1920s and
The worst of this capitalist crisis is yet to come. The once almighty
dollar is now so low that a meeting of Opec at the weekend nearly voted
to stop trading oil in dollars – but the US was saved by the backing of
its Saudi allies, who demonstrate greater loyalty to their money than
to their religion.
But this crisis does demonstrate plainly to workers throughout the
world that the preachings of the capitalist ruling class – that
you should work hard, save, and work in partnership with the boss – are
poisonous lies designed to make us meek and humble lambs to the
slaughter on the altar of profit and the market system.
Workers should be angry, they should rise up and overthrow the tyrant
capitalist system and then take charge themselves to build a socialist
system in which the needs of people are put before money.
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