The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 24th March 2000

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Editorial - Scratching the surface.
Lead Story - Another bosses' budget.
Feature - Unions fight for Rover jobs.
International - Russian elections and the dire prospects ahead.
British News - Livingstone for mayoral control over London health services.


Scratching the surface

CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown's budget announcement last Tuesday of an extra £4 billion for public services is welcome news. The £2 billion extra money authorised for the National Health Service and £1 billion for education are long overdue and desperately needed in both services.

 Even with this boost the NHS and state education services will remain seriously underfunded, staff shortages will still be a problem and they will continue to be threatened by backdoor privatisation schemes such as the Private Finance Initiative for capital investments and private business involvement in education.

 The government needs to be kept under pressure to increase the funding of these and the othlr public services beyond the measures of this budget and to restore full democratic control and accountability.

 But though the budget gave some transfusions of cash it failed to make long-term changes or commitments. In particular, it ignored the widespread demand to restore the link between retirement pensions and average male earnings and offered instead a few one-off payments like an increase to the winter fuel allowance and free TV licences for the over-75s. These measures are no substitute for a decent pension and are in any case not guaranteed to be permanent.

 The Chancellor has managed to keep big smiles on the faces of the bosses, the City and the well-off because he has cut income tax by a penny, capital gains tax by five per cent and promised to keep a tight hold of wages.

 He claims the cuts in taxes coupled with a boost in public spending has been made possible by having bigger government reserves and that these exist because the government has been successful in bringing down unemployment.

 Well, this is a bit like a gardener claiming the flowers grew well because he had made it rain. The Treasury has benefited from an upturn in the economy (at least in the South East). It is part of the cycle of boom and slump that always occurs under capitalism and one which will inevitably turn into slump once again.

 And of course, if the cycle was in a downturn and unemployment was going through the roof the government would be quick to deny responsibility and admit that it was all part of a much wider slump.

 The fact is that the government of the day is never able to plan or control a capitalist economy apart from making small adjustments to the financial levers. That was obvious last week when the government showed its total inability to save thousands of threatened jobs at Rover -- an issue the Chancellor ignored in his speech.

 Under capitalism virtually all of the economy is in private hands. Workplaces and the livelihoods they provide are treated like any other form of private property. They can be bought, sold or disposed of at the will or whim of the owners. The workers' investment of time, energy, skill and creativity count for nothing once the faceless parasites who own the workplaces decide to move their assets into some other venture.

 These life-changing economic issues are never addressed by government budgets. All we get is a penny on the price of beer and numerous minor adjustments to the system of taxation, benefits and services.

 Despite the extra funds for some public services, the balance of the budget is in favour of the rich. Income Tax cuts, even small ones, give most to those who have the most and give least to those who have the least. And, as a proportion of total income, increases of excise duty hit the pockets of the working class much harder than those of the rich.

 Gordon Brown may well have pleased New Labour's upwardly thrusting, fair weather supporters, but he can expect vigorous protests from pensioners, from the thousands being thrown out of work in both manufacturing and service industries and the low paid.

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Lead Story

Another bosses' budget

by Daphne Liddle

PENSIONERS reacted angrily to Gordon Brown's latest budget which did absolutely nothing to protect or restore the value of the basic state pension.

 What help there was for pensioners was targeted at only the lowest income groups with a rise in the minimum guaranteed income from £75 a week to £82 and £172 for couples.

 And the winter fuel allowance for heating will rise from £l00 to £150. This sounds generous but it is for each household, not each pensioner if more than one are living under the same roof.

 And this simple lump sum payment is not a permanent commitment but up to the chancellor each year. It does nothing to raise the level ofthe basic pension and count towards further percentage increases.

 Pensioner organisations are furious that they are now left with the predicted annual rise of just 75 pence because pensions are linked to inflation, not to average earnings.

 The extra £2 billion for the National Health Service is to be welcomed so long as it is not submitted to the usual Government conjuring tricks with money where the same sum is counted in several different columns, making the extra money seem like several times what it actually is.

 Gordon Brown made no change to the level ofincome tax but a cut of one penny in the pound to 22p announced last year comes into force now. He has raised personal allowances by £50 to £4,385 which will give a little help to low paid workers.

 Education is to get another £l billion but much of this will be handed directly to the schools to spend on extra staff or books and equipment as they see fit.

 This further undermines the role of the education authorities and paves the way for speeding up the privatisation of the administration of schools. The Government has signalled it intends to press ahead with this now even when schools are not deemed to be failing.

 Petrol will rise by two pence a gallon.

 Very little has been made available for improving public transport which is likely to deteriorate further.

 The Chancellor could have given tax breaks to those employers who give their workers season tickets or travel cards. But clearly the giant oil lobby is still in the driving seat and public transport is in private hands. Money invested there would not  necessarily improve the service so much as the profits unless it was brought back into public ownership.

 MrBrown has increased stamp duty on the more expensive houses, those costing over £250,000. Hopefully this may have some effect on spiralling house prices but it would have been better to spend more on new council housing stock.

 Child benefit has been increased by just 50p a week to £15.50 and family tax credits have risen slightly. The state maternity grant has risen from £100 to £300 and about time too. Even now it is hardly enough to buy all that is needed for a new baby except through the second had columns of local newspapers. And there is nothing to boost the provision of childcare.

 The family tax credits will again, indirectly end up in the pockets of low paying bosses who need not pay so much in wages now.

 On the other hand small businesses, especially those in the new information technology sector, have been given a big boost. Capital gains tax is to be cut from 40 per cent to just 10 per cent over four years.

 Once again It is a bosses' budget with few big changes but lots of little adjustments to keep the Government on track for its plans to undermine local government, force us to work harder and longer for lower pay and pay through the nose for private pension provision that may or may not still be there when we need it.

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Unions fight for Rover jobs

by Caroline Colebrook

A MASS meeting of conveners and national officers in Birmingham last Tuesday voted to seek "an acceptable alternative" to the sale of Rover by its German owners, BMW.

 And on Wednesday union national officers travelled to Munich to try to persuade BMW not to go ahead with the sale of the loss-making subsidiary to Alchemy.

 Meanwhile Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers seems to regard the sell-off as a fait accompli. He is set to talk with BMW bosses in Munich on Thursday about picking up the pieces and rebuilding the future.

 He said: "The events of last week are now behind us but we have to live and work with the consequences. So this week we will begin the task of ensuring the future of those workers who remain and to start building a future for those who are facing the uncertainty of either a new owner or potential redundancy".

 The union leaders have been told that if the sale to Alchemy goes ahead it will cost a total of 8,500 jobs.

 Around 2,500 will go at the Longbridge plant 2,000 at Power Train, 2,000 at the Gaydon site, 1,500 at Swindon and 500 at Cowley.
 Alchemy is a venture capital group and is most likely to be interested in asset stripping.

 BMW has decided to sell the profitable bits of Rover elsewhere. Land Rover production is to be sold to Ford and it is likely to keep the Cowley plant for production of the new Mini.

 Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, commented: "While we would have preferred for the entire Rover group to stay united with one owner, with Land Rover the jewel in the crown, we nevertheless welcome the bold decision by the Ford Motor company to buy the Land Rover operation.

 "We are confident that Ford have the experience and resources to maintain Land Rover as a 'best in class' vehicle. Land Rover and Ford are a good fit."

 But cuts have already been made at Cowley.The producdon of the Rover 75 flagship model is to be drastically scaled down after disappointing sales.

 The output has now been reduced from 2,200 cars a week to just 2,000. The night shift is being axed but so far none of the 3,500 workers has been given notice.

 Cuts are also being made at Longbridge where the Rover 25 and 45 are built. Currently around 4,400 cars are made here each week but that is due to be drastically reduced.

 Unions are planning a mass march and rally to protest at the sell-off and cuts in Birmingham on 1 April. They expect around a quarter of a million to attend.

 Speaking for the Transport and General Workers' Union, chief negotiator Tony Woodley said: "It is no exaggeration to say this campaign is now a battle for Britain and British manufacturing and it has struck a chord with the British people."

Addressing the mass meeting of shop stewards at Gaydon, Birmingham, he said that Stephen Byers would be prepared to pledge Government money if some other buyer, or partner, than Alchemy were to come forward.

 This would cost the Government less than tens of thousands in unemployment benefit.

 Mr Woodley said: "Two major manufacturers I have been in contact with are looking to see whether it may be of interest."

 The one option the Government has failed to propose is that what is left of the once proud British Motor Corporation should be returned to public ownership and production planned to meet the changing needs of our society.

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Russian elections and the dire prospects ahead

by Steve Lawton

RUSSIAN elections, officially underway this Sunday, are unlikely to yield any surprises. Acting President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to be confirmed, though this will not reflect the fact that many millions will fail to vote.

 The second war against Chechen separatism -- the first in the period 1994-6 was never resolved, has demonstrated Russian determination to defend its sovereignty from which Putin will gain. He has shown that there is a line beyond which a threat to the Russian state will be actively resisted, from wherever it comes.

 He intends to keep troops in place while the process of securing Chechenia continues. But if there is no permanent solution, such deployments may become permanent in the future. Meddling Western interests, particularly in oil, are moving to take command of the resources of the northern Caucasus.

 Putin is backed by the Union of Right Forces (SPS), which includes key leaders Like Boris Nemtsov who recently called for capital flight to be returned to Russia, so long as it has a free 'responsible' hand and creates Western-friendly opportunities.

 US and British companies want a centrist reform government to stabilise extraction of profit, in preparation for intervention in untapped regions of Russia under the cover of regional development.

 State industry and property, now largelv in private hands, especially oil and gas, telecommunications, raw materials, so-called banking and finance, is expected to remain outside the Duma's (parliament's) power to intervene. And the Duma, Russia's lower house, itself represents only a fraction of Russian people.

 Opposition forces point out that Putin has not put forward an economic programme for Russia's crisis and its future for votes to decide upon -- something he said he had no intention of declaring a head of the elections -- and that he will toughen Presidential powers at the expense of the Duma.

 The war in Chechenia strengthens that possibility, particularly since it can now be argued that decisive powers are needed to maintain an all-fronts vigilance in its wake, to protect the state and, supposedly, the peoples' security. Industrial and defence capabilities have been targeted by Putin, which may be linked to Nemtsov's position. This focus is also related to the difficulties over de-nuclearisation and the US threat of a new Star Wars emphasis.

 Putin has said that he will refrain from overt forms of publicity suggesting a confidence in the outcome thaf in effecf tacitly mocks the whole show. Clearly, as the cosy transition from Yeltsin to Putin revealed, he represents the continuity of interests preserving the wealthy minority.

 Even so, as a realist, he will increasingly be faced with the disintegrating effect of deteriorating conditions of the people in Russia, driven through in part by the relentless US-led economic and military encroachment in the former Soviet Union. In fact, the entire basis of Russia's wealth is threatened.

 Firstly, counter-revolution and Western connivance ended the Soviet state, which laid it wide open to transnational interests as it fell from global power ranking. Secondly, the lives of most Russians were quickly assaulted to the point where, now, more than half are said to be barely existing below a harsh subsistence level. That's more than equivalent to Britain's entire population being at or near complete destitution.

 Once Soviet power was destroyed, it was inevitable that the diminished state would become directly exposed to the interests of Western transnationals. The consequences were immediate: workers, having lost power, lost virtually everything, the social and economic infrastructure was wrecked, and ethnic hostility continues to be fomented.

 Until the Russian people regain state power and a genuine commonwealth of peoples' states -- the former Republics -- is created, imperialist interests will continue to toy with tiny rich elites and the puppet regimes of former Soviet Republics. Millions, meanwhile, will sink deeper into desperation and conflict.

 Civil war, as many communists have warned, could well stem from increased imperialist-backed attempts to undermine Russian territorial integrity if nothing is done by the Russian leadership to remedy the economic crisis faced by the people.

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British News

Livingstone for mayoral control over London health services

KEN LIVINGSTONE last week told a debate at St Thomas's Hospital that London would not have witnessed so many bed closures if the health officials running London's health services were accountable to the public for their decisions.

 He said: "If a mayor had responsibility for health, you would not have had the cuts or closures we have seen in recent years. They would have been quickly voted out."

 He called for the Greater London Assembly to be given the role of regional health authority, with wide-ranging powers over resources and planning of hospitals.

 Frank Dobson, as Health Secretary, oversaw the Turnberg review of London hospitals and follows the Government line that the National Health Service would cease to be national if the capital was given devolved powers over health.

 The Government is also apparently worried that if decisions such as the closure of hospitals had to be taken by politically elected bodies they would be much more difficult even if they were "necessary for financial reasons".

 Geoff Martin, speaking for the campaign group London Health Emergency, said: "One of the reasons we have constant pandemonium in London's hospitals is that no one really knows who is making the decisions that affect us.

 "There is a real opportunity here for the GLA to have a role in the planning and development of our NHS and the possibility of allocating the health authority budgets.

 "If the Scottish and Welsh assemblies have been given devolved responsibility for health, why should the same system not work for London."

 Health service managers are very much opposed to this.

 Frank Dobson has proposed a London-wide lottery to raise money for health and education spending in the capital.

 But there are fears that this will simply lead to cuts in central government revenue to London services and leave hospitals and schools dependent on lottery money.

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