This disgraceful state of affairs stems directly from the government's decision to keep public spending within the limits set by the previous Tory government, its promise not to raise income tax and its determination to keep the Trident nuclear arsenal and a high defence budget.
During the same week the government was pleading public poverty to the nurses the Sunday Times published its 1998 Rich List.
This seems rather an imprecise science, making informed estimates of the minimum fortunes of those it deems the wealthiest 1000 Britons. But it reveals enough to sink the argument that Britain is too poor to pay its nurses a decent wage.
According to the list the richest 200 people in Britain are this year collectively worth a staggering £73.3 billion. This represents a rise in fortunes from £38 billion in 1989 -- almost double in nearly ten years.
Throughout that time, and for years before that, the NHS has been severely starved of funds. Public sector workers, including nurses, have seen their standard of living fall and still they are being told to tighten their belts and put up with more wage restraint.
A policy of progressive taxation, which shifts the burden of taxation onto the shoulders of the wealthy and which raises the top rates of income tax, is vital if we are to rescue our health, education and other public services from year-upon-year cutbacks and put an end to growing hardship for public sector workers and the working class as a whole.
In a capitalist society taxation is the only way wealth can be redistributed and used to benefit the majority, the working class, who have created the wealth in the first place.
Of course the rich would squeal. They would also threaten to take their capital and invest it somewhere else. But then they do this anyway -- they are only interested in keeping up their rate of profit, they have no other loyalty or interest.
Throughout the years of the Thatcher government, when taxes on the rich were slashed, the manufacturing sector of Britain's economy continued to decline. The tax bonanza was certainly not invested to revitalise manufacturing industry or to save or create jobs.
The capitalist dream -- in which anyone can become a millionaire if they work hard enough -is based on a huge lie. Large fortunes are never made from hard graft but derive from employing others to work for you. Exploitation is the reality behind the dream.
Every worker knows that if they toiled through every hour of overtime they could get and grafted until they dropped with exhaustion, they would never earn enough to come within spitting distance of being a millionaire.
And what kind of dream is this anyway - a society in which a handful of people get to have billions and those with the skills to save lives and care for others when they are sick get so little they have to consider changing their jobs?
What kind of society ring-fences millions to keep a nuclear-armed submarine fleet that no one needs while working out ways of cutting benefits to its disabled citizens?
The Labour government has come under pressure during its first year in office on a number of issues - most notably in the revolt over cutting lone parent benefits.
What is needed most of all is to increase the pressure on the government to change its position on public spending limits and direct taxation and to support the struggle for decent wages in the public sector.
The waste has already been packaged and, as we go to press, it is due to be airlifted to Britain within a few days.
Up to now Dounreay has been used only for processing nuclear waste, not reprocessing this particular kind of very dirty and dangerous waste.
Other countries all round the world, including Russia, France and the United States have refused to touch it.
But Bill Clinton claims the waste material could "fall into the wrong hands" and be used to make bombs.
If there is a good place to send the stuff on this planet, Dounreay is not it. It has a scandalous safety record, especially regarding the storage of waste materials in deep silos with no records of what materials are mixed up together there.
One of those silos is on a cliff top due to crumble into the sea soon. It is known to contain radioactive plutonium, uranium and the metal sodium which reacts explosively on contact with water. Already there has been one explosion which blew the thick concrete lid off one of the silos.
Unacceptably high levels of radiation have been found on the beach.
The government earlier this month announced a multi-million pound clean-up of these silos but it will take many years to complete.
The news of the Georgia deal broke just one day after the Dounreay Local Liaison Committee met in Caithness where the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) met with two official watch-dog bodies - the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate -- in front of the media to discuss the reprocessing of nuclear waste at the plant.
It concerned the plant's D2670 facility and a deal made last October that Dounreay would reprocess spent nuclear fuel from ICI's small scale research reactor at Billingham in Teeside.
This would be rods of spent Triga waste (Training. Research. Isotope, General Atomic). The Teeside plant is the only place in Britain that produces it but 19 other countries around the world make it so this deal could lead to many others.
Lorraine Mann of Scotland Against Nuclear Dumping raised concerns that this kind of work was a new departure for Dounreay.
She said Dounreay has misled the public: "Fuel processing involves nuclear fuel which has not been in a research reactor and is not therefore, contaminated with a range of unwanted and highly dangerous waste materials. Discharges are low and the forms of radioactivity relatively simple to handle.
"Reprocessing of spent fuel is quite a different matter. Spent fuel involves materials which have already been in a reactor and have reached the end of their useful lives due to high levels of contamination by a cocktail of highly dangerous radioactive materials.
"So far all Triga fuel is being treated as high-level waste by the US government who supplied it in the first place."
Ms Mann said that Dounreay is using public money to establish a new line in commercial reprocessing without any form of official permission.
Sepa objected that Dounreay would need to make a new application for a licence to do this new type of work.
A Dutch Television crew also recently discovered that Dounreay is involved in other commercial nuclear reprocessing deals that are not covered by the plant's current authorisations from Sepa.
Ms Mann described this as a "public scandal of breathtaking proportions".
Now the new deal between Clinton and Blair seems to have brushed aside all the concerns of the watch-dogs.
Kevin Dunnion of Friends of the Earth Scotland said the Georgia consignment would "open the floodgates for nuclear waste to come to Scotland" and warned that some of it was "likely to end up on the beaches round the accident-prone nuclear facility". And Peter Roche, speaking for Grecnpeace, said: "This is an illconceived and dangerous plan. It's no wonder they're being secretive about it.
"Instead of trying to address the problems of nuclear proliferation sensibly, the British and US governments are simply sweeping it under Scotland's carpet."
The Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldemaston in Berkshire last week sought permission to increase by 20 times the amount of nuclear waste it dumps in the river Thames -- from which most Londoners get their drinking water.
This would be a one-off discharge of radioactive tritium, used to make atomic bombs, discharged into the river at Pangbourne.
Local councillor Tony Ferguson expressed alarm that no one really knows how tritium affects humans and the environment.
And Evelyn Parker of the Nuclear Awareness Group warned that it
has been linked to damage to DNA, resulting in Down's syndrome and other
birth defects and that it is also linked to testicular cancer.
He also refused to rule outstaging next year's pay award -- he said he "hoped" it would be paid in full but that economic policy might "dictate otherwise".
Speaking to reporters, he said: "I would hope that in the long run we would be able to get away from staging review body pay awards, but I cannot guarantee and make casual promises about that."
The award will be just 3.8 per cent Mr Dobson told the conference there would be a minimum raise of £122 for the first three years in the £4,350 bursary of student nurses.
On the eve on the conference, RCN general secretary Christine Hancock had warned that low pay for nurses is leading to a crisis of recruitment.
She said: "There is real frustration. Nurses know how to provide the best quality care but often they don't have the opportunity or support to put it into practice.
"The NHS is in crisis and nurses are the solution, but if we can't keep our nurses: and attract new people there won't even be an NHS in 10 year's time.
So Mr Dobson's news was the worst possible the conference could hear.
RCN president Betty Kershaw said the staging of the pay award was " no way for this government to show it values a workforce of professional nurses."
She warned: "If the government stages the pay award again next year, I won't blame the nurses who will leave the NHS in greater numbers for British Airways or Marks and Spencer. Forcing nurses to leave their profession is tragic."
Mr Dobson predictably blamed the staging of the pay award on the need to keep public spending down.
Yet just a few days before Dobson's speech, it was revealed that pay rises for senior health service managers have been running at more than twice the percentage levels of those those for nurses.
Research by Incomes Data Services show that chief executives' basic salaries rose by 5.2 per cent on average in 1996/97 while nurses got a two per cent rise in the same year.
And of course 5.2 per cent of salaries that top £100,000 (£5,200-plus) a year work out at a much bigger sum than two per cent of £4.350 (£87).
Frank Dobson found the news so embarrassing, coinciding with having to tell the nurses their pay award is to be staged, that he told the executives to stagger their increases in the same way as the nurses.
He said: "They cannot really expect people working for them, who are paid less than they are, to have lower increases. I expect them to comply with what I have asked."
But this gesture did not cut much ice with the nurses. Christine Hancock told the conference that the government had saved £84 million by staging the pay award -- a very small part of the NHS budget but a lot to nurses.
She said that nurses felt angry hurt and insulted.
As current president of the European Union Blair was able to present the British and overall European position to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt Jordan and Palestine in a whirlwind tour which even if it doesn't get him a Nobel peace prize nomination, certainly helped present British imperialism as an "honest broker" in the region.
What he achieved was probably all he set out for -- Israeli agreement for face-to-face talks with the Palestinians in London in the presence of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and himself.
Blair and Israeli premier Benyamin Netanyahu were both eager to dampen speculation of any major breakthrough at the London talks, set for 4 May. And there was little public enthusiasm from the Palestinian camp -- who have all but written off any progress under the current hard-line Israeli leadership.
The American foreign minister will, however, be expecting some shift by Tel Aviv, and not another wasted journey to a foreign capital.
Over the decades Israel has been the willing tool of Anglo-American imperialism They've been served well and Israel has been richly rewarded with guns and credits. But Netanyahu's stalling on the Oslo accords has soured the West's relations with the oil princes to the extent that none of them would back Blair or Clinton when the chips were down over Iraq this year.
Netanyahu would be unwise to leave Albright empty-handed yet again. It's true that meeting the US demand for a further 13 per cent pull-back from the West Bank could jeopardise his extremist coalition and dent his popularity with his Zionist settler and anti-Arab supporters. But that very demand is based on an American calculation that it can be accepted by both sides without any great loss of face.
It's the bottom line for President Arafat's Palestinian Authority. He pushed for a 40 per cent withdrawal. Then it went down to 30. Now the Palestinian leader says he will accept the American figure, providing the Israelis agree to the opening of an international airport in the "autonomous" zone and only on the basis that it remains just a stage towards that elusive "final" settlement.
Netanyahu for his part says he will go up to 9 percent -- though even this offer, many Palestinians suspect, comprises of sparsely populated areas which Israel doesn't want. The Israeli leader has defied the Americans time and time again in the belief they will swallow anything to preserve such a valuable strategic asset. During the Cold War this was true but those days are gone.
The Israeli premier thinks he can shut his eyes to the constant demands of the peace movement at home. He's indifferent to mounting Arab anger at broken promises and the betrayal of the palestinians. But the fact remains that Israel's only ally in the world is the United States. And even Netanyahu must also know that there's a price to be paid for American protection and the time eventually comes for some settlement on account.
They were striking because the company, which had just taken over cleaning services at Hillingdon Hospital under Tory compulsory competitive tendering rules, tried to impose a £40 a week pay cut and reduction in other terms and conditions on the women.
That was over two years ago but 23 of the women are still on the picket line and fighting to get their jobs back.
The admission by Pall Mall, in the run-up to an industrial tribunal hearing of the case, will help in securing them a compensation award.
But it will not necessarily get them their jobs back, as Pall Mall has now been superseded by Granada in getting the hospital cleaning contract.
Granada says the dispute is nothing to do with them, they never employed the women and have no obligations to them.
But the Hillingdon women are determined that their demand for full reinstatement remains.
If the Labour government would only carry out its election
pledge of getting rid of the Tory compulsory competitive tendering legislation,
the work could be taken back by the hospital trust -- the women's original
employer -- and they could have their jobs back.