The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 25th February 2000

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Editorial - Shameful!
Lead Story - Outrage at rail safety U-turn.
Feature - Women workers cheated out of £250,000 in a lifetime.
International - Europe-wide demonstrations against Heidar.
British News - Reclaiming the struggle.



THIS Sunday marks the centenary of the Labour Party (known as the Labour Representation Committee until 1906). But judging by the silence from Labour's headquarters at Millbank Tower, it must be a date the current party leaders want to forget.

 No doubt they don't want us to be reminded that it was the TUC which played the key role in founding the Labour Party and that, despite the presence of the usual clutch of class collaborators in Labour's hierarchy, the party was nonetheless created in order to represent the interests of working people in Parliament.

 Instead of a commemoration, this Sunday will be overshadowed by a storm of anger unleashed by the Blair camp's cynical and anti-democratic balloting arrangements for selecting Labour's London Mayoral candidate. As a result a majority of Londoners and London Labour Party members, who want the opportunity to vote for Ken Livingstone in the Mayoral election, have been outrageously cheated.

 Because the biased electoral college system gave a wildly disproportionate number of votes to London MPs and MEPs (1000 votes each as against just one each for individual Labour Party members), because some unions were disqualified from voting on a technicality, and because the South London Co-op and AEEU engineering union used their block votes without conducting any ballot of members, the result was a travesty.

 Livingstone, who had a clear majority of individual Labour Party and trade union members' votes, ended up being narrowly beaten by Frank Dobson -- Blair's choice.

 The blatant carve-up was obvious to everyone. Opinion polls last week showed widespread support among Londoners for the idea of Livingstone standing as an independent candidate. At the same time the Labour leadership is being soundly condemned for its anti-democratic moves -- moves which the media write off as mere control freakery.

 These measures used by the Labour leaders are far worse than that. They are clearly desperate to prevent Livingstone becoming Mayor. The cause of their desperation is not so much Livingstone's 1980s "Red Ken" image as his stated opposition to privatisation of the London Underground -- and while Livingstone is not the only would-be contender with this policy, he is the only one who could actually carry it through.

 Obviously there is big money at stake here and powerful voices in the City of London are eager for yet another public utility flotation on the market.

 What's more Blair knows that Livingstone would have popular support behind him as most Londoners are against Tube privatisation.

 It is also likely that the right wing hope the whole business will help to demoralise the left in the Labour Party and the trade union movement by giving the impression that the left will always be defeated by the right's willingness to keep moving the goalposts.

  But this matter is in the hands of the left and the working class. We do not have to fulfil the dreams of the right wing. Rather we need to take the fight to Blair. Trade unionists who were not consulted by their executives will no doubt be having more than a thing or two to say to their leaders. Labour Party members too are showing their anger at the shabby way they have been treated.

  We need to remember that Blair does not always get his way. We have seen in Wales that Blair's favourite for leader of the Welsh Assembly, Alun Michael, has been  quickly put out to grass -- a tale that should give Frank Dobson plenty of food for thought.

  The 100th anniversary of the Labour Party has coincided with a shameful episode in Labour's history. But this could be Blair's bridge too far and become a turning  point in which the struggle for a democratic Labour Party gathers momentum. The Labour movement as a whole has to stand up and speak out. The Labour Party is not the  property of Blair -- it is the creation of the working class and it is there to serve the interests of our class!

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Lead Story

Outrage at rail safety U-turn

by Daphne Liddle

DEPUTY Prime Minister John Prescott faced a public outcry last week after backing down on his pledge, made in the wake of the Paddington rail disaster, to remove the responsibility for rail safety from Railtrack to an independent body.

 His announcement came at the end of a Government rail safety review which began last October after the crash that killed 31 people.

 The Department of Transport review recommended that Railtrack should be stripped of its responsibility for ensuring the rail operating companies are safe to operate.

 Prescott has accepted this and said he would also end "Railtrack's dominance" of the industry's safety agenda by removing its responsibility for setting and enforcing security standards, which will pass to the Department of Transport.

 But Prescott has decided to allow Railtrack to keep overall responsibility for setting safety standards and carrying out audits.

 And Railtrack's Safety and Standards Directorate will be set up as a Rai Itrack subsidiary company, Railway Safety Limited rather than removing it entirely from Railtrack control.

 Families of those killed in the Paddington crash are horrified. Solicitor Louise Christian, spea king on behalf of the bereaved families, said: "They are concerned there remains a conflict of interest in any company associated with Railtrack retaining a responsibility for safety. A subsidiary company will still be part of the profit structure and will be under the same pressure to put profits before safety."

 Prescott has also decided against requiring the rail companies to fit the expensive but failsafe Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, which would prevent trains going through red lights, in favour of the cheaper Train Protection and Warning System.

 Louise Christian said: "The families feel the announcements are motivated by the desire to save costs. The only modern, computerised fail-safe train protection system is ATP."

 Prescott's decision coincides with the opening of the first inquests on the victims of that crash.

 Last Monday Mrs Birgit Andersen read out a tribute to her daughter Charlotte. In tears she spoke of the "crash that could have been prevented".

 Mrs Andersen added: "She lost her life due to lack of safety measures. Her sister, her father and I were robbed that morning at 8.11am.

 "We feel angry as well as worried and feel it is a matter of time before lives are lost in a similar accident if safety is not improved.

 "I plead that the dead of Ladbroke Grove should be honoured by ensuring that this does not happen again."

 The inquest also heard from fire station officer Richard Hodson of how it took fire crews ten minutes to prize open security gates to get heavy rescue equipment to the site of the crash.

 In the meantime firefighters had pitched ladders against the fence and another one 100 further on to give immediate help to the victims.

 Britain's railway chiefs were confronted with another safety issue by the Rail Maritime and Transport Union which last week voted in favour of strike action against proposed changes to the role of train guards -- changes which the union says will undermine safety.

 Train guards working for 16 of the 23 train operating companies are now ready to strike against the downgrading of their role to "glorified tea boys".

 The union has not yet fixed strike dates as it hopes to persuade the train companies to withdraw the proposals before the end of the month.

 RMT spokesperson Vernon Hince declared: "They cannot claim that commercialism and safety are one and the same thing."

 There are well founded fears that the train companies intend to save money first by downgrading the train guards and then doing away with them altogether.

 If RMT talks with the company managements fail, the union is expected to stage a series of one or two-day strikes that will affect the entire rail network in Britain.

 Train drivers employed by the Connex rail company who staged a very successful one-day strike earlier this month in a long running dispute overworking hours, are planning to strike again after the company reneged on the promises it gave to get the drivers to drop the strikes.


 The train drivers' union Aslef is planning another campaign of disruption and work to rule beginning on Tuesday 29 February if Connex, which operates services between London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex, does not keep its promises.

 One of their pledges was to send Connex managers on industrial relations training but so far they have made no effort to improve.

 The union also complained that drivers have been harassed and managers have failed to organise joint meetings, as agreed.

 The union has provisionally set other strike dates for 8, 16, 24 and 27 March and 4 April.

 Aslef general secretary Mick Rix said: "We hope that this issue can be resolved before 29 February but at the end of the day, Connex has to make a serious effort to improve industrial relations."

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Women workers cheated out of £250,000 in a lifetime

by Caroline Colebrook

A TYPICAL woman worker will be paid around £250,000 less than a man during her working lifetime simply because she is a woman, according to Government research published last week.

 The Cabinet Office report shows that women are still being paid around 20 per cent less than men on average in spite of nearly three decades of equal pay legislation.

 The research looked at women in three categories: low-skill with no qualifications, mid-skilled with GCSEs and in a clerical job and high-skilled graduate professionals.

 They compared their lifetime expected earnings with a man with the same qualifications and number of children.

 The research showed that even women who did not have children and took no career break, were paid many thousands of pounds less than men with no children during their working lives.

 Those who did take a break to look after growing children paid a real penalty -- with those who had children earlier in their career suffering a greater pay loss.

 Low-skilled women tended to lose most. A low skilled woman who had no children would be paid £197,000 less in a lifetime than a man in similar circumstances. She would lose a total of £482,000 if she did take a break to have children.

 A middle-skilled woman with no children would lose £241,000 simply for being a woman. If she took a break to have children that figure would climb to £381,000.

 A high-skilled woman would lose £143,000 if she had no children but that would rise to £162,000 if she did.

 The research was carried out by the London School of Economics, the Institute of Education and Birkbeck College for the Women's Unit.

 Government Ministers for Women Baroness Jay and Tessa Jewell admitted that women workers are still hit by a "female forfeit" and said the report exploded the myth that women's incomes are lower than men's only because they take time off to care for children.

 The TUC and women's groups responded to the report by calling for measures to increase pay in female-dominated employment sectors and particularly in part-time work.

 They are also calling for improved childcare so that the burden of looking after young children does not fall so unfairly only on women.
And they are calling for legislation to ensure than women who do take a career break to look after children can return to work at an equivalent level rather than taking a lower paid job.

 Julie Mellor, speaking for the equal opportunities commission called on the Government to show leadership by tackling the pay gap in the public sector.

 She said: "The Government should insist that taxpayers' money is not spent paying suppliers who do not pay women equal wages.

 "Twenty five years after the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced, women are still sacked because they are pregnant paid less for equal work and earn less over a lifetime than men, even if they never have children."

 And equal opportunities commissioner Jenny Watson called on the Government to reform employment tribunals so their findings become applicable to whole employment sectors rather than simply individual workers.

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Europe-wide demonstrations against Heidar

by Steve Lawton

VIENNA's Heldenplatz (Hero's Square) was packed with what Democratic Offensive organisers said were some 300,000 protesters outside the Hofburg Palace last Saturday, despite cold and rain, to oppose the inclusion of the fascist Jurg Haider-led Freedom Party (FPO) in the Austrian coalition government. They called for the resignation ofthe conservative People's Party leader Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel and his government.

 Schussel saw his salvation in a deal with Heidar after elections last October in which the FPO gained 27 per cent of the vote. The coalition, which broke 30 years of Social Democratic government and took office on 4 February, holds 104 seats in the 183-member Parliament.

 Among many addressing the rally which brought together opposition parties, human rights groups, trade unionists, artists and pensioners, was Jewish community leader Ariel Muzicant who attacked Heidar's violent speech and his followers who he said are "believers in Nazi ideologies". He said: "It is a scandal that racism and anti-Semitism have once again become harmless crimes. It is a scandal that these crimes have been legitimised by the People's Party."

 The Austrian government can hardly move without encountering what is fast running into a continuous and expanding movement of opposition by the day. On the numbers for last weekend's action, it has matched the huge rally against Haider seven years ago.

 In a statement, Democratic Offensive said: "Racism made the Freedom Party big and is now being rewarded with Cabinet seats "that must not be allowed." Max Koch, one of the organisers, described the event as a "peaceful uprising of civil society".

 The European Union (EU), US and other nations such as Israel have registered a range of actions from disapproval to outright condemnation of Austria's government. The US briefly withdrew its ambassador but has so far taken no other action. EU diplomatic sanctions action, and tougher measures to follow if there is no change, will hit the hardest.

 These actions, far from playing into Heidar's hands on the grounds of damaging Austria's sovereign interests, have emboldened Austrian opposition while Chancellor Schussel reaps most of the whirlwind. Both German and French leaders -- Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Jacques Chirac -- have promised resolute action.

 The strength of feeling is becoming increasingly evident far beyond Austria's borders, as the Hitlerite alarm bells rang out very quickly across Europe.

 Last Sunday around 10,000 protesters from Belgium's French and Flemish-speaking regions gathered near the Austrian embassy in Brussels with slogans declaring that democratic Europe will not tolerate fascism. In the Wallon region of Belgium some schools cancelled ski holidays in Austria as a protest. About 1,000 people demonstrated in Liege.

 The Belgian government has taken a strong line on Haider who was publicly snubbed at an EU ministers social affairs meeting. He was then forced to cancel his attendance at a regional EU meeting due to take place in Brussels. Belgian foreign minister Louis Michel had earlier said the Freedom Party's inclusion in the Austrian government set a "serious precedent" of normalising the extreme right in Europe.

 In Paris last Saturday there were around 9,000 on the streets; 3,000 in Grenoble and over a thousand in both Lyons and Strasbourg and other actions took place in Lille, Marseille, Bordeaux, Perigueux, Poitiers, Toulouse and Narbonne.

 Any idea that Heidar's past words -- that Nazi concentration camps were "punishment camps", praising Hitler's labour policies and FPO posters praising anti-immigration -- is clearly more than words on his part. Heidar's withdrawn libel dispute with the Sunday Telegraph over whether or not he said Churchill was one of the worst war criminals, led it to examine his recent past.

 It reminded us of the time in 1995 that Heidar was filmed speaking to a predominantly Waffen SS gathering of die hard Nazis in a back room of a pub in the Carinthian town of Krumpendorf. He is heard to say: "I find it good that there are still decent people in this world with character who stick to their beliefs and their convictions -- even if the wind blows against them."

 Heidar had to be rescued by from a local restaurant by police after the Vienna rally as a group of protesters, who had spotted him, began to attack the building.

 Earlier, on a private visit to Canada, Heidar was prevented from entering the Montreal Holecaust Centre. Moshe Ronen, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, questioned Heidar's motives.

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British News

Reclaiming the struggle

by Rene Sams

"ONE year on since the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry this is a crucial time", said Suresh Grover, chairperson of the National Civil Rights Movement. His words opened last Saturday's one day conference at London's Conway Hall. "We need", he said, "to look back and see what was won and what has happened in that year".

 "The Lawrence Inquiry", he said, "had reached an unprecedented verdict which for the frrst time admitted that the killers were motivated by race and for the first time in this century had forced the Secretary of State to institute a judicial inquiry.

 "It has given us the ability to scrutinise the motives of the police force", and Suresh was happy that, "the Metropolitan Police Force have promised they will be more transparent.

 "But", he told the conference, "over the past year there has been an unprecedented rise of 89 percent in racist incidents and many more deaths in custody".

 He was obviously disappointed to report to conference that although the Met Police promised a paradise of swift action sadly "that has not come about". The Inquiry made some 70 recommendations none of which has so far been implemented.

 There is no doubt that the courage and dedication of Neville and Doreen Lawrence in pursuing the police for all those years to get justice for their son has had a tremendous effect.

 It has brought about a change of climate which has allowed the other families to come forward and campaign for basic civil rights for their loved ones.

 Speakers from 14 of the family campaigns now fighting to get some justice, or at least an explanation of how their loved ones came to die, made very moving speeches telling ofthe attitude of the police to them and their families and witnesses of the incidents which come from all over Britain.

Sukhdev Reel, mother of Ricky whose body was found in the Thames in 1997 said, "police tried everything in their power to convince the family that they had done all that was possible to solve the mystery of Ricky's death" His death is still a mystery.

 Kwesi Menson, brother of Michael who was burned to death in 1997, spoke of police disrespect of black people and their systematic efforts to minimise the circumstances of his brother's agonising death after 13 days suffering in hospital without even being interviewed by police.

 His sister Essie said she was sure that the police and judicial system had been trying to con us that the Lawrence case was just a one-off. But judging by the number of cases present on the platform that is obviously not the situation.

 It is not only black and Asian people who have to fight for civil rights. Another incident concerns five Chinese waiters who were attacked by five white racists who smashed up the restaurant and racially abused and threatened the staff.

 When waiters called the police they were shocked to find themselves being arrested. Because they were Chinese the police seemed to have immediately assumed that it was just a Triad gang who caused the incident and an internal Chinese affair. Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign told the audience of how they are still fighting against the police cover-up of the horrific disaster at the football ground when 96 people died.

 The Bishop of Croydon, Dr Wilfred Woods, President of the Institute of Race Relations, recalled the early days of black immigrants in the 50s in Notting Hill where a policeman only had to say a man kicked him in the shins and he was arrested.

 "There is a different situation today, he said. "We don't have to vindicate our blackness". "But", he stressed, "the importance of supporting the families in struggle is because "it concerns us all".

 Director of the Race Relations Institute, Dr Sivanandan, also reminded conference of the history of black people, who had worked in transport, and helped to provide much needed services but who still must fight to get their basic dues.

 "Despite the new Freedom of Information Act", he said, "the police are still free to withhold information to those who need it".

 He was scathing about the multitude of committees, joint committees, liaison committees and forums created by the state which have proved ineffective and just public relations exercises. And he warned that "state racism contaminates civil society".

 A warning to the ethnic minority communities came from Sir Herman Ouseley, former Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, who gave an appraisal of the situation today for the younger generation of black and Asian people, many of whom now have good jobs.

 He explained the problems facing those working in institutions. They will face pressure to conform with the culture of those institutions. He stressed thatthere must be no compromise on principles.

 Lee Bridges, Professor of Law at Warwick University, said the Lawrence Inquiry Report had let the genie out of the bottle -- now they are trying to get it back in again.

 "Every institution has to have policies", he said. "But it is in the implementation of those policies that racism shows". He cited the stop and search policy much favoured by the police.

 "It is claimed", he continued, "that this is necessary for the detection ofcrime, but individual police officers have a wide and selective discretion in who actually gets stopped. There is evidence to show that their powers are abused and not effectively monitored".

 Michael Mansfield QC, President of the National Civil Rights Movement, spoke of the 70 recommendations in the Report. He told the conference that the authorities have had the arrogance to say they are beginning with 40 per cent of these. They did not say which 40 per cent!

 "All we do know", Mansfield said, "is that in reality the changes are nil. There are plenty of laws in Britain, but the problem is not so much the law but the implementation of the law that has to be changed.

 He stressed that the movement has made real achievements over the last year. "They are", he said, "significant and tangible - and we must recognise what we have achieved.

 "Before the Lawrence campaign started people had to struggle alone, now that has changed and there are now not just one or two groups but a whole network of groups. There is collective support for those fighting for their rights. Families are no longer isolated.

 "The authorities now know that they are not dealing with one family. There is a solidarity which they have not had before in this country -- the power of the families has at last come home to roost".

 The enormous change between the pre-Lawrence and post-Lawrence situation was noted by solicitor Imran Khan. He said it was most important that we recognise and acknowledge that change has taken place. But he warned that there has been no recognition or acceptance of institutional racism by the police.

 "Transparency and accountability are the current buzz words" Imran Khan said, and "we have to make sure that this becomes real".

 Conference concluded with Doreen Lawrence making an appeal for the unity of the movement. "We must stand together and not ourselves to be divided", she said. "Together we can make a change".

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