The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 24th, July 1998

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Editorial - Ducking the issue
Lead Story - Bosses show contempt for labour.
Feature - Means tests for tomorrow's pensioners.
International - Korean general strike protest.
British News - Prescott backs public transport.

Editorial

Ducking the issue

 THE government's latest plan to tackle traffic congestion quite rightly includes proposals for improving public transport. But it completely ducks the vital issue of re-nationalising the privatised railways and de-regulated bus services. What's more it's still flirting with plans to privatise all or part of the London Underground.

 The privatisation and de-regulation of public transport has been a disaster. It has shattered the national rail network into lots of little bits and pieces, put bus services into the hands of numerous rival companies -- all jostling with each other for the lucrative routes -- and made it nigh on impossible to plan or integrate transport services locally and nationally.

 Transport Minister, John Prescott, talks of diverting money from the pockets of city-centre car drivers and putting it into public transport improvements.

 This sounds like another Labour think-tank idea designed to give the appearance of dealing with a problem but in practice doing very little, doing it on the cheap and doing it without offending big business.

 The theory is that motorists are supposed to be discouraged from driving into city centres by the levying of charges. Those, who still use their cars would pay for the privilege.

 Like all indirect taxes and blanket charges -- it takes no account of people's ability to pay. The least well-off drivers would be the ones left taking the bus while the well-heeled in their big gas-guzzlers would still be in the driving seat.

 Worst of all is the prospect of putting even more of our hard-earned money into the pockets of Virgin, Railtrack, Stagecoach, Connex and the rest of the firms whose directors and shareholders have already made billions from the privatisation bonanza.

 Of course there is no doubt that public transport needs money for improvements. But if that money is to come from the public purse, either collectively or through government subsidy or individually through Prescott's car-taxing ideas, then it should be publicly owned. The assets and revenues our money creates should benefit everyone and not just a minority of rich investors.

 The privatised transport companies are making huge profits. At the same time we are still giving subsidies. It's a scandalous situation in the government connives at helping the rich to extract money from the rest of us.

 We say the first step the government should take is to re-nationalise, the rail system, scrap all the plans to privatise the underground and bring the buses back into regulation.

 As for cutting back the volume of road traffic there is a proven way of doing this -- cutting fares. This was successfully done by the Greater London Council under its Fares Fare policy. The fares in London were cut and a significant number of people switched from car to tube, train and bus.

 Similar schemes of low or flat fares were operated in other cities with the same results -- fewer cars on the road.

 At present the high cost of travelling by public transport is a major reason why many people choose to travel by car -- this is particularly true of long journeys -- the train may take the strain but it's at a price people can't afford.

 Of course Fares Fare type of schemes have to go hand-in-hand with better services. There would have to be major investment in the infrastructure of the tube, safety work on rail tracks, new rolling stock and improvements to the bus services to cut out the uncertainty of waiting times.

 The government also needs to look at its housing policy -- its proposals to build new homes on the Green Belt would encourage more people to live many miles from their job and add to the problems.

 Building affordable housing in the many unused spaces in our towns and cities reduces the need for long daily journeys. But this also requires investment to improve our urban environments making them more pleasant places to live.

 Action has to be taken to relieve the congestion of our roads and our lungs -- it cannot be left to market forces to sort out nor the private sector -- we need to tackle this problem by restoring democratic control and public ownership to our transport system.

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Lead Story

Bosses show contempt for labour.

by Daphne Liddle
 
 THE NEW CHIEF of the Confederation of British Industry last week declared his hostility to trade unions while the Guardian Index of Top Executive Pay showed Britain's top bosses gave themselves an average increase of 18 percent last year.

 This shows the total disregard and contempt Britain's captains of industry have for the government's pleas to restrain themselves on pay.

 Chancellor Gordon Brown told them earlier this year: "It would be the worst of short-termism to pay ourselves more today at the cost of higher interest rates, fewer jobs and slower growth tomorrow. All of us must therefore show greater responsibility."

 They now take home an average of more than £800,000 a year. And some of Tony Blair's closest business pals have awarded themselves the biggest rises.

 These include Prudential chief Sir Peter Davis, who heads the Welfare to Work taskforce and Arts Council chairperson Gerry Robinson.

 Sir Clive Thompson, the new CBI chief, is also the chief executive of the firm Rentokil Initial on a salary of £1.45 million, making him the sixth highest paid executive in Britain.

 But the average pay of Rentokil employees is merely £8,727 a year.

 Thompson began his appointment with an attack on the government for:

* seeking to limit bosses' pay -- he says this is "inappropriate" and will "distort the market";

* introducing a minimum wage -- it will have an immediate effecton his company where around 10,000 of his 83,000 British employees, mainly cleaners and security guards, are paid below the £3.60 an hour level;

* introducing the European Community limits on working hours -- this could cut his company's £400 million profits by £10 million;

* and for introducing legislation to compel companies to recognise unions where most of the employees want this.

 Thompson said that unions might be suited to more traditional industries but in the service sector, hotels, retailing and suchlike "they clutter the workplace".

 He said: "in businesses in the fast-developing services sector they are really not appropriate.

 "We at Rentokil have never been anti-union. The company has been built up by treating people as individuals ..."

 The minimum wage legislation is now in deep trouble as the Tory majority in the House of Lords has passed a number of amendments which create so many exemptions they have virtually wrecked the Bill. And there is not much time left in this parliamentary session for the Commons to undo the damage.

 While the bosses have been showing contempt for Labour, the government has been being tough with the unions.

 At a meeting last week between Gordon Brown and a union delegation headed by TUC general secretary John Monks, Brown rejected a call for a a billion investment scheme this autumn in job creation to stall the further development of the gathering recession.

 John Monks said: "We put our concerns about the economy slowing down and the need for public sector workers to be properly rewarded."

 Perhaps Sir Clive Thompson was prompted to make his remarks by the belief that the unions are currently weak.

 Figures released earlier this month show trade union membership is at its lowest point since the end of the Second World War.

 The Labour Force Survey puts the figure for 1997 at 7.1 million and the TUC's own figures for 1998 reveal a drop to just 6.6 million.

 The biggest falls have been among male manual and industrial workers and reflect the decline in manufacturing in this country and the number of bosses who have derecognised unions.

 Union membership has held up best among service and public sector workers and among women workers.

 The government's Fairness at Work legislation will improve the situation.

 And the TUC has recognised that the figures call for a stepping up of its New Unionism project to apply successful recruitment methods developed in American unions.

 The TUC Organising Academy, which is halfway through a year's training course for 36 union organisers, has already paid for itself in the membership dues of workers signed up as part of its field work.

 And it has been literally field work as these young people have braved the mud at Glastonbury and other festivals and negotiated club dance floors to reach young people who need the protection of the unions.

 Many union activists would like to see their leaderships taking a stronger and more active line -- and nothing would help union recruitment more.

 But now as the bosses go on the attack, the union leaders find themselves in the front line of the class war whether they want it or not.

 These bosses want to destroy the unions because by their very existence they stand in the way of rampant and unashamed capitalist greed.

 And these bosses still see the Labour Party as their enemy in spite of the efforts of Blair and his predecessors to make it boss friendly.

Organised workers by their very existence stand in the bosses' way and the bosses know this -- even if the current Labour leaders don't seem to. Now is the time to strengthen and build the labour movement at all levels.

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Feature

Means tests for tomorrow's pensioners.
 
by Caroline Colebrook
 
SOCIAL Security Secretary Harriet Harmnn last week spelled out the benefit that pensioners cnn expect, or not, from Chancellor Gordon Brown's public spending "bonanza".

 She said there will be a redistribution of income targeted at the very poor and that all pensioners will get a guaranteed income of £75 a week -- a rise of about a fiver a week on what they get now. Couples will get £119.90, up from £112.55.

 Pensioners will also get regular £20 extra payments to help with winter fuel bills and free eye tests.

 And there will be concessionary fares for pensioners on public transport.

 Harriet Harman also told the pensioners that the basic state pension will continue to be raised in line with price inflation.

 This is what Margaret Thatcher promised the pensioners when she cut the link between pensions and average earnings in 1979.

 The price inflation figures are fiddled and since 1979 the state pension has fallen to a fraction of its former value and now it will continue to decline.

 Former Labour Cabinet minister Baroness Barbara Castle attacked Harriet Harman's policy to means test benefits and pointed out how much more its costs to administer benefits where claimants have to prove how poor they are before they are entitled Ms Harman claims she will run a campaign to ensure that all pensioners get the benefits they are currently entitled to. Many who are getting only the state pension are unaware they are entitled to some Income Support.

 Once a person gets Income Support they automatically come in for a range of other benefits like help with laundry, free prescriptions and so on.

 Ms Harman says a pilot study showed that some pensioners are missing out on as much as £51 a week.

 This precisely illustrates the point that means tested benefits do not get to those who need them most.

 The rules about who is entitled are confusing, many do not know how to apply and the whole proccss is humiliating, especially with Ms Harman's close colleague Frank Field determined to root out all benefit fraud and in doing so make all claimants feel like suspect scroungers.

 Whatever Ms Harman says, there will still be millions of poor pensioners not getting their full entitlement as long as it is means tested.

 The only guarantee of decent living standards for all in old age is to raise the value of the basic state pension.

*  The private healthcare company Bupa has won a £108 million contract to run nursing homes for Bedfordshire County Council.
 

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International

Korean general strike protest.

 
 SOUTH KOREAN workers are being called out on general strike as we go to press in protest at the arrest of scores of trade unionists last week.

 The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) is calling on all members within 3 hours travelling time from the capital, Seoul, to converge on the city for an all-day sit-in protest. The focus is likely to be Seoul Railway Station Plaza, where thousands of unemployed homeless workers have made their homes over the last few months.

 The KCTU action follows the refusal of the regime and the employers to consult the unions over the austerity package imposed by the IMF and the World Bank as part of the conditions of a bail-out loan to "rescue" the south Korean economy.

 Warrants have been issued for the arrest of nearly a hundred trade union leaders including KCTU vice-president Yoo Duk Sang, Fyung Ho who heads the Korean Metal Workers Federation, President Kim Ho Seun of the Korean Federation of Public Sector Unions and head of the telecom workers and Kim Kwang Shik who leads the 35,000 strong Hyundai Motor Workers Union.

 Five trade union leaders are now in jail. One was released following KCTU protests and another escaped while workers held the riot police at bay in his office.

 KCTU General Secretary Koh Young Joo has gone on hungerstrike in protest at the new round of repression.

 The Kim Dae Jung regime, intent on following the dictate, wishes and whims of the IMF, the United States and foreign capital has finally decided to abandon the pretence of "social dialogue". It gave the green light to the employers to press ahead with mass redundancies and lay-offs.

 Hyundai Motors has already got rid of 5,336 workers through three rounds of "voluntary retirement". Another 4,830 have been earmarked for the sack and a further 6,842 will go unless the union agrees to a wage cut of 21.7 percent. Management intend to shed 16,000 jobs this year. Trade union officers and shop stewards were singled out as the first to go. Daewoo, partly owned by US giant General Motors, intends to sack nearly 3,000 workers. And the sackings and wage cuts are being imposed across the board throughout south Korean society.

 The KCTU demands include the prosecution of employers for illegal mass dismissals; a public inquiry into the cause of the current economic crisis and the freezing of all the emergency measures until the hearing is completed; the adoption of a plan to guarantee the jobs of workers in banks and other companies forcibly closed by the regime; the suspension of the government plan for public utility "restructuring"; an end to the mass sackings; and an end to the mass repression of the labour movement.

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British News

Prescott backs public transport.
 
 DEPUTY Prime Minister John Prescott last week delivered the government's White Paper on transport policy which, for almost the first time since the invention of the car, is designed to discourage its use in favour of public transport.

 Motorists will have to pay to drive into city centres, to use motorways and trunk roads. And there will be heavy taxes on parking spaces, even those provided by employers.

 The nitty gritty of the charges will be left to local authorities and they will be expected to use the money gathered to improve local public transport.

 In this way Mr Prescott puts the stick before the carrot. In the 1970s, the Greater London Council proved that improving public transport and cutting fares does lead to a real reduction in private
car use.

 But the Tories outlawed this policy, wedded as they were to the best interests of the giant oil companies and car manufacturers.

 Now even the capitalist class has begun to recognise the damage being done by excessive private car use. They may not live in the worst polluted inner city areas but even they are not immune from the fumes and noise pollution produced by traffic congcstion.

 And their businesses are losing money when their cars, vans and lorries are held up in traffic jams.

 The government is committed to reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse" gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000. And it intends to accomplish this by discouraging car use.

 John Prescott singled out parents who use cars to take children to school as adding unnecessary congestion. A generation ago most primary school children walked to school while their older brothers and sisters used buses to get to secondary schools.

 But increasing traffic congestion now causes many parents to fear letting their children out alone. And the absence of conductors on buses means that children who are disruptive are not checked and life is made hell for all passengers, including other schoolchildren.

 Many parents have expressed the view that only special school buses will tempt them to leave their cars at home.

 The government intends to set un a strategic rail authority with stronger enforcement powers to improve standards on the railways. It will get a grant of £300 million to invest in physical improvements.

 Voluntary "quality partnerships" will be established between local authorities and bus companies and some element of bus regulation may be reinroduced.

 But the chief problem is that public transport is now in private hands. The train and bus companies are well pleased with the White Paper.

 They know they are going to make big profits from this taxpayers' money that is being dished around.

 We will have to wait and see how much of it does result in improvements and how much is diverted into fat cat pockets.

 Without public ownership, neither the government nor the local authorities will have much control. And if the improvements don't come, the policy won't work and traffic congestion and pollution will continue to get worse.

 The Virgin Rail company last week announced record profits of £13.5 million for the 11 months to the end of last February.

 And Stagecoach, the company that runs both buses and trains, last week announced pre-tax profits of £160 million for the year to 30 April.

 In the meantime passengers have registered record levels of complaints for poor service. This will not encourage people to leave their cars at home.

 The government must take public transport back into public ownership and it is not difficult to do since all the franchises have time limits.

 One rail company, Connex South Central, has already been told its contract will not be renewed. Passengers cheered when they heard the news.

 But now the company has decided to shelve its plans for £370 million in new rolling stock and this investment was part of its original contract.

 That franchise must not be passed on to another company, it must be the start of a newly revived British Rail.

 And plans to privatise part of the London Underground must be abandoned.
 

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