The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 23th November 2007

Daphne Liddle speaks at  LRC

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by our European Affairs Correspondent

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 Telecom.

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 cancellations. 

to the streets

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 £40 million.

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 early 30s.

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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