And yet we see all the time that the majority of people have no more control over the economic forces that affect their daily lives and livelihoods than they have over the weather or the forces of nature.
Last week hundreds of West Londoners working for the south Korean transnational, Samsung, heard their jobs are to go. A day or so later half the workforce at the Merthyr Tydfil plant of another south Korean firm, Halla Euro Enterprise, were told they too would lose their jobs.
Across the world people are losing their jobs because of the severe economic crisis sweeping through south east Asia. The working people of south Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and other countries in that region are bearing the brunt of the suffering as jobs disappear, currencies fall in value and bankruptcies rise.
And yet none of this is the fault of working people anywhere in the world. They are, for all their supposed "freedom", being forced to pay for a crisis that is not of their making.
The crisis is explained away as being the result of unwise speculation on the south east Asian stockmarkets and big firms running up huge debts they can no longer repay.
Though this is all true, the root cause of the problem is not discussed -- the crisis of over-production, which is part and parcel of the capitalist system itself.
It is this which gives rise to the cruel and irrational situation where workers are made unemployed because there are too many goods being produced for the markets to absorb. At the same time the world is full of hungry, impoverished people who lack even the most basic necessities.
In many developing countries, children pick over the rubbish tips of their towns and cities in a desperate struggle to survive. Many are unable to survive the oppression of the capitalist system and die in infancy or childhood from malnutrition and preventable diseases.
Of course if the unemployed had jobs and money to spend they could afford to buy the goods pmduced by their labour. But under capitalism the very opposite happens. The deeper the crisis gets the more the capitalist class is driven to shed labour and lower wages. As a result the crisis gets worse and worse.
But while life gets worse for the majority of people -- from South Wales to south Korea -- it gets better for the few. Bad times are good times for the wealthiest capitalists who can use their vast fortunes to buy out their smaller rivals and drive other com peti tors to the wall, leaving them even bigger and stronger.
In the same way, the strongest capitalist powers, take advantage of the crisis to bully other countries. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an instrument of such big power bullying.
It is ostensibly a genuine organisation offering a lifeline to ailing economies. In reality it is a US-dominated body that fits economically weak countries into a straitjacket for the re-payment of debts -- it always ends with the working class carrying the burden.
This is why the political leaders, who represent these giant monopolies and transnational companies, are careful to limit their talk of "freedom, democracy and human rights" to the freedom to support their barbarous and criminal system of capitalism.
They never talk about the right to work, the right to affordable and decent housing, the right to a healthy and nutritious diet, the right to free education and health care and the right to freedom from exploitation.
They don't talk about these things because capitalism cannot deliver
these things. Only a socialist society with a planned economy, that seeks
to meet the people's needs, can put an end to the misery of poverty and
give life and hope to everyone in that society.
Gerry Adams said: "There must at the very least be an all Ireland dimension to this and we, of course, want to see Irish unity." He said there must be a "comprehensive agenda". And to get the British government to face up to its "historic responsibilities", he said, more meetings may be needed to establish "a strategic overview of how a democratic peace settlement can be brought about."
He spelled out those concerns: "The putting of an assembly up in lights while fudging every other issue; the failure to promote actively an equality agenda; the lack of movement on issues like the prisoners and demilitarisation; the whole background of these recent developments and particularly these "propositions and the background of unionist and loyalist violence."
And while northern Ireland secretary Dr Mo Mowlem attempted to play down this reaction as a matter of the "devil in the detail", it was quite clear that the devil was in the very existence of the 'propositions' which are increasingly being focused on as though the Joint Framework Document (1995) was about to be superseded. And that itself, Sinn Fein has said, is far from satisfactory.
Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness MP, speaking on Irish radio last weekend, said the 'propositions' had been "placed on the table at the point of loyalist guns" and this was why it had "gone down like a lead balloon within the nationalist community in the north."
He said Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble's attitude was noted by all in the north -- that as far as he was concerned the stepping-stones of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Downing Street Declaration (1993) and Framework Document, "were gone", Martin McGuinness said.
The Sinn Fein leader said they went into the talks to get an all Ireland settlement, not an internal settlement within the north. While the 'Propositions' six county northern Ireland assembly was "up in lights -- signed, sealed and delivered", he said "nationalists have to struggle, to negotiate to get the North-South Council back up to the Framework position."
And "without one word of peace negotiations David Trimble has been handed an assembly, Council of the Isles, and can interpret all he likes the strength of powers of a North-South Council. That is no way to negotiate."
Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin, reacting on Monday tnorning to yet another killing, told the BBC that the deaths "underline the failure of politics" and the need for meaningful discussions, because "none of the arrangements that have arisen from the policy of partition in our country have worked."
Pointing out that the "political vacumn" has allowed these forces opposed to the peace process their head, he said "we are seriously concerned at the evidence that is emerging that Maze paramilitary groups on the loyalist side are engaging with the Loyalist Volunteer Force in the current campaign against innocent Catholic civilians."
He said the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)'s action on Monday "can only exacerbate an already very dangerous situation". Sinn Fein is also critical of the approach taken by both governments", he said because "they have retreated from positions they had agreed sometime ago as being a realistic parameter to find a lasting settlement."
Northern Ireland secretary Dr Mo Mowlem, speaking as talks got underway at Stormont on Monday, said the focus must be on 1 May for agreement. She reiterated that the Blair-Ahern propositions document was there "to try and encourage and stimulate debate".
The developments are more than disturbing. It is clear there are serious questions now about exactly how INLA were able to shoot LVF killer Billy Wright in the Maze -- questions about prior knowledge -- apparently admitted by prison staff -- of impending violence, reports not acted upon, and other allegations regarding lax monitoring.
Is what Martin McGuinness refers to as the "Securocrat" military of the British state destabilising the transparent need for talks? While David Trimble is treated, and presented, as though he is a responsible participant in talks, the bald fact remains he continues to refuse to meet Sinn Fein and engage in any talks. He refuses all calls, including that from the participating Alliance Party most recently, to move on.
Clearly, over the brief and intense period so far since the second IRA ceasefire. the unionist-loyalist, internal and external campaign to shift, split or marginalise Sinn Fein has failed.
Sinn Fein's role has not moved away from its nationalist grassroots; if anything, activists have been galvanised into a greater vigilance that strengthens Sinn Fein's resolve despite murder, intimidation and threats. That is how the grassroots manifestation of organised concern over partition must be seen.
Furthermore, the Orange Card has failed to force Sinn Fein out ot the talks, as much as David Trimble seems to think. Rather revealingly, alter Sinn Fein's meeting with Tony Blair, he said he believed that rejection of the 'propositions' by Sinn Fein was perhaps the start of "disengagement". A bit rich considering the UUP have failed to engage from day one.
But the serious and dangerous intent has been there from the beginning: To eradicate the presence or influence of Sinn Fein and now, because that has failed, to turn up the heat to test the IRA ceasefire as another means to pressure Sinn Fein's resolve by so-called tit-for-tat loyalist-republican killing "retaliation".
The British government especially is in the driving seat. It's actions so far have all the hallmarks of moving to an internal settlement. Insistance from the British government that they are now on a "fast track" appears more like railroading.
It is treating Sinn Fein at the very least, when it matters in hard negotiating terms, very disdainfully. Martin McCuinness said on Irish radio last weekend that the document wasn't available to him until 48 hours before it was actually tabled. That is no way for the British government to negotiate either.
Barbed jabs from the media -- will Sinn Fein pull out, what "concessions" are they after, is INLA acting under orders from the IRA -- are diversions from the issue.
The British government must pressure the Unionist; to engage with Sinn Fein; it must move back to the Framework Document; it must move forward on confidence building measures -- prisoners, demilitarisation, full public enquiry over Bloody Sunday, and so on, and it must keep us all informed.
The tragedy has gone on long enough and the British government can stop the talks running into the sand.
He said: "Performance levels generally continue to concern and disappoint me" And he added that punctuality in the last quarter of last year was "deteriorating" and he would be watching the situation closely.
Passenger groups have called on him to do more than just sit and watch. Keith Bill, of the pressure group, Save Our Railways, said: "Just as the government is sending hit squads into sub-standard schools, they should have hit squads to go into train compamnies like Virgin, Connex and Great Eastern."
But sending in hit squads would just be a dramatic gesture that would not get anywhere near the root cause of the problem -- which is of course the need of the private enterprise companies to make profits.
All other aims and targets imposed upon them must inevitably come second to this -- that is the nature of capitalism.
And in this, their priority aim, they are not doing too hadly at all. They are getting twice the subsidy from taxpayers that was given to British Rail before privatisation and they are allowed to raise fares well ahove inflation levels.
Any penalties that John O'Brien can inflict on them will appear as mere flea bites in their balance sheets -- well worth bearing if this is the way to maximise profits.
The worst offenders include Virgin Rail, South West Trains, Anglia, Great Eastern and Connex. Both Connex South Central and Connex South East are owned by the French company Generale des Eaux.
Richard Branson's Virgin West Coast ran 45 percent of its inter-city trains to Scotland significantly late and the company as a whole, over the whole of 1997, ran 30 per cent of it's services late.
This was enough to trigger discounts for season ticket holders though this will hardly have compensated for the problems they have suffered. Never mind, that will not appear on Virgin's balance sheets and a few season ticket discounts cost peanuts. Next year fewer commuters will buy season tickets anyway so that penalty will diminish.
Thirty-seven per cent of Great Eastern's trains ran late, 30 per cent on Connex South Eastern, 28 percent of South West Trains and 27 percent on Anglia inter city.
And there was the well-publicised fiasco on South West Trains after the company made too many drivers redundant and then found it just did not have enough to run the timetable.
Commuters suffered several months of cancellations of up to a third of services on those lines. Yet the company got away with a minimal penalty and a pat on the back for running those trains that were moving a bit more on time than previously.
The train companies have a long litany of excuses: leaf fall, bad weather, and track, signalling and power supply difficulties. These are blamed on Railtrack, the company that manages the rails, signals and so on.
Railtrack has acknowledged that nearly 60 percent of train delays had been caused by factors within its responsibility and announced the appointment of a performance director who will liaise with the train companies to improve punctuality.
Under British Rail the trains and the tracks were the responsibility
of just one organisation so did not need overpaid officials with bright
ideas about one part of the system talking to the other parts.
And British Rail could not pass the buck and blame another part of the system -- it was all one system.
Clearly that is the only way to run a railway. The whole of British Rail must be taken back into public ownership at once.
If the Labour government claims it cannot afford to compensate the private franchise owners, the simple answer is that that they have already had far too tnuch out of taxpayers and fare paying passengers.
They are incompetent to run the system and should be removed.
The Seventh anniversary of the Western attack against Iraq was marked by mass protests in Baghdad and throughout the world calling for an end to the blockade which has led to the deaths of some two million innocent civilians through hunger and lack of medicines.
In the Iraqi capital tens of thousands marched behind cars carrying the coffins of 70 children who had died due to lack of medicines blocked by the embargo. Mourners denounced America and burnt the Star and Stripes and the Union Jack outside the main UN headquarters in Baghdad.
President Saddam Hussein made a televised appeal for a million Iraqis to enlist in the armed forces and for retired soldiers to report for duty in readiness for any new American aggression. And the Iraqi leader warned that he might set a six month deadline for the UN inspectors to end their work, which has dragged on for seven years, unless sanctions are lifted.
But at the United Nations Britain and the United States show no willingness to respond positively to Iraq's two complaints -- the first over the composition of the disarmament teams, which they say are packed with American and British personnel and double-up as spying missions, and the second around the basic demand for a final lifting of the blockade to avert famine and halt the slow death of the country.The UN's "Big Five" -- the veto-powers on the UN Security Council -- remain divided over the crisis. Russia, France and People's China are opposed to any new military action. Russia is backing Iraq's call for the reduction in the number of American and British experts in the UN arms teams and for a quick end to the blockade. China, while urging Iraq to comply with the UN inspections is now saying that Baghdad's demand for a swift end to sanctions must be considered. France has still to declare her hand but Paris opposed military action when it was mooted in London and Washington last November.
Whether this will be enough to stay the hand of the United States and Britain depends on the calculations in the White House at the cost of launching a new strike against the defiant Arab country. The imperialists know that they cannot count on the backing of even one of their Arab clients for a new crusade against Baghdad.
For many years the pro-American Arab regimes imposed a news blackout on the impact of sanctions on the Iraqi people. Now they too want normalisation and the truth about the criminal blockade has reached the masses, firing angry protests throughout the Arab nation already incensed at the complete collapse of the Middle East "peace process".
But US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright continues to bang the war-drum warning that "the threat of military force is there" and her officials are dropping broad hints that Baghdad will face new missile attacks unless it backs down to the West's demands.
* A senior Iraqi diplomat and seven others were murdered
in the Jordanian capital of Amman last weekend. The massacre took place
in the house ofa prominent Iraqi businessman and Jordanian officials have
pinned the blame on Iraqi opposition groups, who operate in the country
and are funded by the CIA.
In 1996 the workers agreed to accept a pay freeze rather than face cuts and redundancies but on the understanding that in 1997 they would get the full rise negotiated nationally by their union, Unison.
But last summer, when this pay rise was due to be implemented, the management said workers could only get the full rate of 2.5 per cent -- moodest enough and below inflation levels -- if they each signed new contracts giving worse terms and conditions of work.
The union immediately tried to negotiate but talks soon broke down. Then management put on the pressure by giving workers a deadline of 31 August to sign the new contracts.
Very few signed.The deadline was extended several times. The union conducted a straw poll a and found that 88 per cent did not want the new contracts and 86 per cent wanted to ballot for industrial action.
The red tape imposed by anti-union laws passed under the Tories means that the ballot results have only just come out: four to one in favour of some sort of industrial action and two to one in favour of strike action.
But since the turn-out was low the union has decided to go for forms of industrial action short of a full strike that will hit management but not the students, for example a work to rule or the boycotting of certain tasks like compiling statistics.
Since the ballot, the manager has sent a letter to every Unison member employed at the college, attacking the ballot result and a decision to strike which had not been taken.
"He jumped the gun." one Unison officer told the New Worker. "Now we can tackle his arguements in our newsletter. We get the last word and serve him right."
Now the manager has given formal notice that he is seeking further
redundancies: 75 teachers and 60 non-teaching staff. The college has already
lost some 300 jobs over the last two years.