Yet there is nothing radical in this cynical waffle. It boils down to a lot of pious talk about targets and combating child poverty without giving any pledge to make more money available or to change the taxation and public spending limits set by the Tories.
AIistair Darling says he wants to see a reduction in the number of children living in workless households and to see an increase in educational qualifications. It sounds good, but smells bad.
We cannot ignore the fact that the long-standing decline of Britain's
manufacturing industry has meant a devastating loss of decent, full-time
jobs that once offered skill training for young people. Where these have
been replaced it is mostly with low paid, insecure
jobs in the service sector.
The government has not only failed to address this reality, it
has added to the problems by insisting on holding down wages in the public
sector, by failing to fully implement the Working Time Directive on hours,
by refusing to repeal the Tories' anti-union legislation, and by tailoring
the conditions of the Job Seekers Allowance into a charter for bosses to
offer rotten pay and conditions to people who are not
allowed a choice.
So, when Alistair Darling talks of getting adults in workless households back into employment it is not the same as wanting to end poverty -- rather, it is just another move to get people off the unemployment register and off state benefits. Far from the government giving money to ease poverty it is the poor who will be helping the government to save a few bob on behalf of the hard-pressed top level taxpayers whose idle lifestyle must, it seems, never be disturbed.
Even the proposal to increase educational qualifications will be just a mirage if it isn't backed up with funding. And this must include decent, affordable childcare. And of course it won't touch the problem of poverty if there aren't enough properly paid jobs at the end of the line.
Who needs enemies?
SIR KEN JACKSON, leader of the AEEU electrical and engineering union, seems to have forgotten that he is paid by his members to fight on their behalf and not the bosses.
His comments on the 24-hour electricians' strike were immediately
leapt upon by both the bosses and the Tory media who used his words to
attackthe strike. He failed to put the record straight about electricians'
pay and undermined the strike by saying there needs
to be a "more civilised way of doing things". This crass remark would be applauded by every boss that ever drew breath. They would all argue that strikes are uncivilised and that there should be other ways of doing things -- preferably less effective ways which don't interupt the flow of profits into bosses' pockets.
The strikers were also criticised for hitting high profile work sites such as the Millenium Dome and the Jubilee Line extension. Oh dear! What a shame! And what a silly argument! Strike action is intended to be noticed, it is meant to show the workers' anger and frustration and is certainly not the time to keep the joker card up your sleeve.
We can be sure the electricians will have their own words with Sir Ken. For our part we should support the electricians by standing with them on Wednesday (29 September) at 9am outside the former County Hall on the South Bank and join their march to the Electrical Contractors Association at Palace Court, London W2.
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By Renee Sams
"PENSION Rights, Not favours!" was the slogan for the pensioners' demonstration -- several thousand strong -- last Saturday that marched from the embankment, via Parliament Square, to Trafalgar Square for a rally, on the 91st anniversary of the state pension.
The marchers made it clear they want the link between pensions and average male earnings restored and the pension raised to £75, and itis needed NOW!
Among the banners on the march to Trafalgar Square were several from trade union retired sections: the Transport and General Workers' Union; the shop workers' union Usdaw; the teaching union NASUWT; the Communication Workers' Union, the public sector union Unison and the RMT transport union.
Also present on the march were the mayors of several London boroughs. The march was headed by RMT general secretary Jimmy Knapp and Tony Benn MP.
Coaches brought pensioners from all centers of Britain.
Music along the way was provided by a jazz band from the Musicians Union, most of whom were pensioners, but they could still swing and they did, all the way.
On the platform veteran trade union leader Jack Jones, president of the National Pensioners' Convention which organises the annual rally, demanded that older citizens should be treated with "dignity in old age".
He said that today's attitude towards pensions was degrading to the people who pulled their weight during the Second World War and the post-war years.
He said: "As it stands (with pensions linked to official inflation figures) the pensioners will only receive a 75p increase next year. That would be an insult to the older generation."
Veteran parliamentarian Barbara Castle, who is working on a Pensions Bill to go before the next Parliamentary session, spoke of the anomaly caused by the Blair governments' claims to be helping the poorest pensioners.
"So those of you who took the precaution not to save," she said, "will get various benefits and the rise but those who did take care to save will be in deep trouble because they cannot afford henefits as of right for everyone."
"Yet the government" she reported, "has a war chest of £5.9 billion above what is considered prudent for contingencies. Yet raising pensions from the current poverty level of £66 to just £75 would only cost £3.4 billion."
She reminded her audience of the Beveridge scheme which was intended to provide benefits for all. "But the Blair government," she said, "only wants to divide us into those on benefits and those on private pensions."
Over two million pensioners need to claim means-tested support. Many more, even with a small weekly income from savings, must manage on less than half the average wage.
And tomorrow's pensioners will be even worse off. They must pay for private pension plans which they can ill afford.
Barbara Castle said: "If Margaret Thatcher had not abolished the earnings link then the basic state pension would not be £75 but £93 for a single pensioner.
"That cannot be restored all at once -- we are realistic and sensible in our demands -- but we ought to go some way towards restoring the gap."
Jimmy Knapp told the rally that the trade union movement is fully behind the pensioners' battle.
He said: "We have the lowest state pension in the European Union and that is not something to be proud of.
"Poverty is still too common among our pensioners. Retirement and growing old is a worrying time when it should be a time for relaxation and enjoyment."
Just two days after the rally, Chancellor Gordon Brown told the Cabinet that his "war chest" surplus of government income over expenditure now stands at £12.6 billion but he has every intention of holding on to it.
He is coming underincreasing pressure to spend it on hospitals, schools, housing, higher public sector wages and of course better pensions.
It certainly shows the governmcnt has no need to resort to Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes to raise capital for public facilities.
These schemes are vastly more expensive than simple government-funded building plans because of the costs of raising the money (interest rates) and, at the end of the schemes, the assets remain the property of the private sector.
But Gordon Brown has declared it will be "imprudent" to start spending it now. Many suspect he is saving the money to spend in the run-up to the next election.
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by Steve Lawton
NEAKLY 18 years on from the Bloody Sunday shootings during a civil rights march through the nationalist Bogside area of Derry in 1Y72, and the strongest evidence yet that British troops killed 13 completely unarmed Catholic men has now been revealed.
Forensic evidence presented on 16 September in Derry by solicitors acting for the families of the dead, said three English scientists had identified fatal flaws in the original inquiry. Judge Lord Widgery, who headed that inquiry, exonerated the British Army Parachute Regiment at during the time Edward Heath's Tory government.
The doctors' work was commissioned as part of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry panel, led by Lord Saville of Newdigate, which the government set up last year to investigate new allegations and evidence. The preliminaries lead to formal public hearings which are scheduled for next March.
"It vindicates the case made by the relatives," said Paddy MacDermott, solicitor for one of the young victims, Willian Nash, "that their loved ones were innocent and had not been handling firearms when they were shot."
The independent analysis of Dr John Lloyd, Dr R T Shepherd of the StGeorge's Hospital medical school forensic medical unit, and Kevin O'Callaghan, a top forensic scientist with the Forensic Science Service in London, completely overturns Dr John Martin's Widgery Inquiry evidence.
And he, at the time the British Government forensic expert, has now recognised publicly that in the case of James Wray, his earlier submission was wrong. He had told the inquiry that many of the victims were exposed to lead particles which came from firearms.
This was part of the crucial basis of the soldiers' defence, since their case hinged on arguing that the 13 deaths (another died later from his wounds) resulted from engaging an armed enemy after it had supposedly fired upon the troops first.
This line of defence has already been comprehensively challenged -- that the reverse was the case -- as we know from Don Mullin's Eyewitness Bloody Sunday compilation of eyewitness accounts. Some of the 13 therefore, were made to fit the picture as having in some way handled weapons.
But Dr John Lloyd said Dr Martin's evidence is "worthless". And in the case of James Wray, Dr Martin now says that his own findings "do not support his original conclusions that the results were consistent with exposure to firearms discharge."
Furthermore, Dr Lloyd said there: was "no evidence on which it may be supposed that any other of the deceased was associated with explosive substances."
His report is clear on several counts: "The absence of control testing nullifies any evidential significance that Dr Martin's results might have had. The absence of any control samples also nullifies any possibility there might have been of obtaining any meaningful results from a reanalysis of the samples that have been retained."
Among the many examples, he points to some factors which non-forensic understanding could have recognised.
Michael McDaid, William Nash and John Young were three victims that were taken to Altnagelvin Hospital in an armoured vehicle. Dr Lloyd said it was "likely to have been heavily and continuously contaminated with firearms residue." He said the evidence of lead particles on Michael McDaid is "solely explicable on this basis".
The case of James Wray, like that of Barney McGuigan, is especially stark. Liam Wray, his brother, said the evidence "is a vindication of what we have said over the last 27 years -- that our brother was not a gunman."
This showed that James Wray had been shot in the back at least once; while Barney McGuigan had been shot in the back of the head with a banned "dum-dum" bullet -- a blunted cartridge designed to increase internal damage upon impact. It also suggests one of the victims was lying face down on the ground and shot at very close range.
The new findings prompted General Sir Anthony Farrar Hockley last Friday to launch a rearguard attack on the findings. Branding it as "part of a long running public relations exercise to work public opinion up in favour of saying that the soldiers were all murderers and nothing was done wrong on the other side."
Some might wonder at that insensitive imbalance: suggesting 14 dead as the price of "doing wrong". It is implied, of course -- they are "the other side".
And it is no less extraordinary that he should then claim: "I am sure the Army and Ministry of Defence will not attempt to fudge any evidence and will not attempt to hold anything back." Any one ranging from the 1950s nuclear test veterans to those suffering Gulf War Syndrome would not be so sure.
The lead particles on the dead victims alleged to be of firearm origins was never conclusively proved anyway at the Widgety Inquiry. Dr Martin's cautious reassessment of his own case files makes this clear.
He said: "With the benefit of hindsight ... I do not believe it is still possible to say that there is a 'strong suspicion' that a positive lead test may have resulted from exposure to discharge gases from firearms. I could only now say Lhat such a positive test may give rise to 'a suspicion'."
Proof has never been an issue for British policy in dealing with nationalist resistance spearheaded by the Irish Republican Army. Heath at the time, according to tape evidence now in the hands of the Saville Inquiry, blamed the organisers.
In the transcript, according to Sinn Fein"s weekly An Phohlacht, Heath tells the then Irish Premier Jack Lynch: "If you had dealt with them [Republicans] this would have been over long ago."
And according to the transcripts of journalist Peter Taylor for the BBC, it is also clear that when the British troops returned to base after the killings, the RUC were outlining the driveway clapping and cheering. The company Sergeant Major said: "They RUC were actually quite pleased that we'd done what we'd done."
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.BRITISH and Australian troops have moved into the East Timorese capital, Dili, in the first stage deployment of the UN sanctioned international peace-keeping force.
Some 2,000 troops, under the command of Australian general Peter Cosgrove, met no opposition when they entered a ghost town largely abandoned by the population last weekend. Torched and wrecked buildings testified to the violence of the pro-Indonesian militias which had forced virtually all the civilians to flee for their lives.
Thousands of militiamen are fleeing to Indonesian West Timor, where they have practically taken over the provincial capital of Kupang. Some are cooperating with the international force and handing in their weapons. Others are digging-in in the countryside they control vowing to fight on -- backed, on paper at least, by the promise of a 100,000 strong Muslim volunteer force being recruited in other parts of Indonesia.
Militia leader Eurico Guterres has declared eight of East Timor's provinces out-of-bounds to the international force. And in the past he's headed the call for a repartition of the former Poauguese colony with the areas nearest the Indonesian half of the island remaining under Indonesian control.
The Indonesian army commander in East Timor, Major-General Kiki Syahnakri says his men will be out within days. "Once they get in, I will pull out. I hope the process will not take more than a week," he told the press.
But no clear message is coming from the Indonesian government in Jakarta. The head of the armed forces, General Wiranto, has said the conditions are calm enough to lift martial law but no date has been given for the final withdrawal of Indonesian troops to West Timor. The mainly Catholic East Timorese leaders claim that Wiranto orchestrated the recent violence in a last-ditch effort to scupper the independence movement. Others think he is planning a bid for power and he's laying nationalist credentials for the future.
Indonesia's interim president B J Habibie, has certainly come in for some flak from rivals inside his own Golkar party. But so far protests on the streets have been limited to a few thousand nationalist militants. In fact, it would be very difficult -- if not impossible -- for the Indonesian ruling class to oppose East Timorese independence now.
They cannot defy the referendum result and more importantly, they cannot challenge the Western powers who have propped up reactionary Indonesian regimes since the anti-communist coup in 1965. But they have made their anger felt by tearing up the 1995 security agreement with Australia in protest at Australia's current support for the East Timorese independence.
The West's motives remain cloaked in pious phrases and humanitarian sentiment while the decades of support for the brutal Suharto dictatorship which massacred a million communists and tens of thousands of East Timorese is quietly forgotten.
The mass protests last year which brought General Suharto down demonstrated that the army could no longer terrorise the Indonesian people in the old way. The recent elections have brought democratic movements to the fore which could threaten imperialism's hold on this immense island state.
Washington and London must hope that they can retain control of a weakened Indonesia and establish domination over the fledgling East Timorese state by playing one off against the other and ensuring both remain dependent on the West.
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by Daphne Liddle
HUNDREDS of angry electricians marched through Sidcup, south-east London, last Tuesday to lobby a meeting between their union, the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, and bosses at the Joint Industrial Board headquarters.
Their anger was directed not just at the employers but at their own union general secretary Sir Ken Jackson and the rest of the union leadership for recommending the acceptance of a wages and conditions package that will see many of them worse off than they are now.
Ken Jackson attacked his own members in the bourgeois press for taking one day's unofficial strike action in protest at the deal.
The action affected working on many prestige sites like the Jubilee Line, the Millennium Dome and the Royal Opera House.
The deal, which will affect 25,000 workers, will cut, overtime paid for Saturday working -- overtime rates will begin only after 4pm instead of 1pm now.
The package will accept that workers could be subject to temporary lay-offs at construction sites, for example if necessary materials have not turned up.
This will leave pay levels very insecure and subject to all sorts of factors beyond the workers control. It will be back to the old "no money if you stop for rain" days of the "McAlpine's Fusiliers".
The package also accepts a degree of de-skilling of the work. It would allow NVQ qualified (semi-skilled) labourers to do work now only done by fully qualified electricians, as long as there was one qualified sparks on site to supervise them.
This will undermine wage levels and will have obvious safety implications -- but it will save bosses a lot of money.
There will be a 12 percent pay rise over two years, but in exchange, workers will lose fares and travelling time to and from sites.
One electrician's wife told the New Worker: "This is no small matter. Going from one construction contract to another, the electricians could end up travelling big distances regularly."
She said the 12 per cent will not make up for the losses. "At best they can hope to stand still".
The workers are also furious at Ken Jackson's remarks in the press where he described them as "greedy". He said although London-based electricians could demand higher rates and better conditions, those in the rest of the country would find it a good deal.
Nevertheless, the one-day walk-out was joined by sparks in Dover, Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Grangemouth.
The press used Ken Jackson's remarks to print headlines saying they were "£350-a-day men" or paid "£1,800-a-week". The electricians condemned this as nonsense.
Just a week ago Ken Jackson had been addressing the TUC conference saying he did not believe in strike action and talking about "partnerships" with employers.
He said workers should find a "more civilised way of doing things".
Most of the workforce see his role now as acting for the bosses to persuade the workers to accept less.
One striking electrician said: "Ken Jackson is a prima donna sitting in an ivory tower who never speaks to the shop floor workers. He should start talking to his shop stewards or resign."
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