The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 25th April, 1997

Thanks especially to all the British readers for writing this week. Hopefully our election coverage has helped them decide which way they want to vote.


Workers of all countries, unite!


Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition

Please feel free to use this material provided the New Worker is informed and credited.


Editorial - Lang's Britain. & Condemn the Fujimori regime
Lead Story - Firefighters' strike gains strong public support.
Feature - Universities for the rich?
International - Sinn Fein call for big vote in poll.
British News - Kick out the Tories.



Editorial


Lang's Britain


BOARD of Trade President Ian Lang attacked the unions and the Labour Party last week at a press conference in which he denounced the STUC's agenda as a litany of left wing demands which, if adopted, would ruin Britain.

Obviously Mr Lang seems unaware that his party is unpopular because increasing numbers of British people think the Tories have been doing just that -- "ruining Britain" -- by presiding over high unemployment, growing poverty and the run down of our hospitals, schools, council housing and social services.

When leading Tories and the capitalist media talk of "Britain" and "our one-nation" they want to foster the idea that we are a united people with a common national interest.

But nothing could be further from the truth. We are, whether we acknowledge it or not, a class divided society in which the interests of the exploited class -- the majority of the people -- are in direct conflict with the interests of the exploiters.

Lang and the rest of the government represent the interests of the exploiting class and they hope to kid us that the interests of that class should be embraced by everyone.

But this cannot be since the rich can only flourish by worsening the wages and living standards of the working class and increasing the level of exploitation. And the working class can only protect its standard of living by resistance and struggle against the actions of the capitalist class.

When the likes of Ian Lang attack the demands of trade unionists and express their fear at the Labour Party's links with the unions, they claim to be protecting Britain. In reality they are only seeking to advance the fortunes of the rich minority.

The interests of the vast majority of British people are served by supporting a strong trade union movement and by kicking the Tories out in next week's election.

Lang's remarks were made to look even more ridiculous when the economic indicators published last week by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed Britain has now dropped three places to 21st in the international economic league.

Britain, the report said, is now bottom of the heap of the G7 major capitalist countries and 12th out of the 15 European Union countries.

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Condemn the Fujimori regime


THE reactionary and oppressive regime of President Fujimori should be totally condemned by all progressive people throughout the world.

This govemment chose last week to end to the Tupac Amaru (MRTA) occupation of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Peru by inflicting a storm of violence and murder. All the MRTA rebels were killed. The Peruvian authorities were helped by British SAS troops acting as military advisers.

The MRTA occupation of the Lima mansion began last December as part of the struggle to secure humane treatment for the many political prisoners suffering in Peru's jails and the release of some.

The Fujimori regime does not recognise the political status of the prisoners who have to endure appaling conditions and few visiting rights.

The MRTA have been labelled "terrorists" by the capitalist media and their brutal deaths rejoiced in. But the real "terrorists" are the ruling elite of Peru who live off the backs of an impoverished and oppressed people.

Resistance movements like the MRTA and the "Shining Path" guerrillas have a great deal of popular support -something the Peruvian regime does not have.

The ending of the occupation will not be the end of the popular struggle in Peru. It is important now for progressive voices all around the world to take up the demand of the MRTA and the "Shining Path" for the granting of political status to Fujimori's political prisoners and for humane conditions in Peru's jails.
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Lead Story


Firefighters' strike gains strong public support


by Steve Lawton

TREMENDOUS public support greeted strike action by Essex firefighters when they set up picket lines at fire stations all over the county last Saturday.

And Essex FBU Brigade secretary Keith Handscomb told the New Worker, that a local press poll of the public revealed that 9 out of 10 people supported their case. And for the national demonstration on Tuesday 29 April he called for "maximum Public support."

The first 24-hour strike was followed by two four-hour stoppages on Monday and Wednesday. Two further strikes are planned: one on 29 April at the same time as the national demonstration in Chelmsford and one for Friday 2 May.

Fire Brigade Union (FBU) negotiators came out of last Thursday's mediated "exploratory" meeting and the Friday talks, disgusted at the intransigence of Essex council leaders and their paltry final "offer".

All they would propose, FBU executive member Geoff Ellis told the New Worker, was a reduction of 244,000 from the 1.5 million fire service budget cut -- a handful ofjobs saved from the expected 52 to go. But rather than draw lots back at the stations, firefighters rejected the council's position and the strike countdown commenced.

There is no lack of solidarity to keep morale and the struggle going.

Derbyshire firefighters donated 20,000 to the Essex firefighters' hardship fund. They've already been down this road and it took them six years of struggle to safeguard their fire service.

The Southern and Eastern Regional Council (Sertuc) met as the first strike was underway and endorsed a London FBU emergency resolution backing the Essex firefighters' action.

The strongly-worded statement said the cuts would have a "disastrous impact" on the fire service in the county. Endorsing their Essex comrades actions, It said: "Regional council condemns the introduction of Army strike-breakers into Essex."

And it attacked "the threat by fire authorities surrounding Essex to use anti-trade union legislation against firefighters in surrounding brigades refusing to act as strike breakers in Essex.

Labour leader of Essex county council Chris Pearson accused "a few militants on the executive of the Fire Brigades Union" of failing to "put the whole proposal to the whole membership of the FBU in Essex." He said that if they had, they would have accepted the county council's "fair and reasonable" offer.

But firefighters on the picket lines Saturday rejected this propaganda. Their view is that the democratic process in the FBU -- the fact negotiators were elected to carry out the tasks on their behalf -- did not mean the proposal had to be voted on. Firefighters had confidence in their representatives' position.

FBU general secretary Ken Cameron told delegates at the Scottish TUC last weekend that Essex firefighters who are protecting the fire service by their actions didn't amount to being "selfish". He said that "when others are running out, it's our members who are running in."

And as he urged support for Essex firefighters, Presdent of the Board of Trade Ian Lang mounted a tired attack to justify Tory anti-union proposals "which would protect the public from the kind of action taken by the firefighters in Essex."

Last Thursday as talks went on, a blaze occured at a Wickford warehouse. The smoke shutdown the A127. It took 25 firefighters from Basildon, Woodham and Rayleigh to put it out. Basildon station officer Fred James said: "We are all very concerned that the Green Goddesses would not be able to cope in the event of an incident of a similar scale."

No sooner were the nearly 50 year-old Green Goddesses deployed, than two of the 25 that had been stationed at Colchester barracks broke down. They have also been found inadequate on their first "shouts": One Goddess failed to put out a fire, so a real fire engine was brought in; another took an hour to douse a fire that required only minutes to extinguish.

One ex-military Green Goddess driver who operated in the last firefighters' strike over pay and conditions, while not prepared to recognise the inferiority of the aged under-equipped vehicles, nonetheless acknowledged firefighters' were being treated with "sneering contempt."

The public reaction has been very strongly in favour of protecting the firefighters' action. Colchester fire station is an a busy main road, traffic was heavy in both directions on Saturday.

On both sides of the road, big poster boards captured the spirit of the strike: "Hoot for more council loot" and "It's not about pay, it's about lives". And posters declaring "cuts cost lives were hung high over the station facade.

Colchester FBU secretary John Crust told the New Worker that the "hooting has been deafening" and support "brilliant". He also said: "Politicians and senior management have decided it's time to get nasty.

"If anything It reinforces our resolution to see this through. It makes it obvious that if we don't see this through and win it this way, things are going to become even worse in the future." No one needed reminding of the risks firefighters face here -- one injured firefighter in plaster and bandages was propped-up on the picket line.

At Basildon fire station, where there was a solid 100 per cent response to the strike, FBU chair Simon Bullock said support was "extremely good". He exglained that although there was a good percentage of people who voted "no" to strike action they're still right behind the FBU.

At the same time, as Simon Bullock said: "We've had retained firefighters at our meeting and they are also 100 per cent in support. A lot of these people actually voted not to strike, but they realise that it's a democratic decision and they are out on strike -- so its very solid."

He was undaunted by the prospects of a prolonged battle to defend the fire service. "It will have to go on until we win." He said they are prepared to be out for a year if necessary because "we can't go the way of the NHS, or some of the other services, so we will maintain this action until we win."

How seriously the strike move was weighed is clear from a Grays firefighter. He said: "We don't want to take strike action -- it's our last resort. We've been forced into this corner, because we know, in the longer term, that firefighters and the lives of the public will be put even more at risk should these cuts go ahead."

Home Secretary Michael Howard condemned the strike action last weekend and said it "brings back memories of the worn kind of secondary action which brought about the "winter of discontent". And Labour's 'shadow Home Secretary Jack Straw, again said he did agree with the strike and supported the county council's action.

When the Saturday strike ended at IOam Sunday, one hour into the next shift. FBU members were told that they wouldn't be paid or used for the whole of that shift because of that one hour on strike.

Secretary of Essex FBU Keith Handscomb said Green Goddesses provided "cover" until 6pm while the professiqnals were left idle. He said: "They're putting the public's lives at risk" Union members said they were told that if they didn't report at 9am they would be sacked.

Essex chief fire officer John Sherrington said that if they arrived at IOam they would be working on a "voluntary basis only and they will not be paid."

He said: "But if we chose to use them, we may call on them in a serious situation, and they will be insured when they attend incidents, but they will not be paid for that shift" In the event they were. In the event firefighters showed their dedication by making themselves available voluntarily without pay.

But this sort of management arrogance reinforces the intimidation and threats that continue from the county council, which has now warned the FBU that if there are any further stoppages beyond Wednesday, the firefighters may be suspended.

The future of the service under such draconian cuts -- 3 million over three years -- is bleak station closures (Leigh and Rochford); decreasing firefighters; fewer crews to handle appliances for incidents; longer waiting times; decline in quality; greater pressure to handle incidents under strength, and so on.

Keith Handscomb explained that the council does have money to remedy the crisis: the county council have 9.5 million of Essex council taxpayers' money sitting in reserves. They've got l million set aside in the emergency contingency fund and also saying that they are prepared to spend l million a month in Green Goddess fire cover."

Firefighters also point out how the issue has become a matter of statistics. If few people were saved in relation to the cost of the fire station, it ceases to be cost effective. Much the same criteria applies to the NHS now. But since, as the FBU point out, the population of Essex is expanding at the rate of 6,000 a year, fire stations will become busier. Fire calls have more than doubled since 1988.

Clearly, fire service professionalism is enhanced by the expansion not the contraction of the service. And as Geoff Ellis told the New Worker, the Essex fire service has already fallen 18 firefighters below the Home Office's own guidelines on minimum strength for safe fire service operations.

Training, expertise and experience will be affected if the fire fighting infrastructure is tampered with in any way at all. With greater risk to life there comes the risk of lower morale. Eventually, that will impact on recruitment.

Cambridgeshire and London are currently balloting members to decide their own position in the light of the fact their respective chief fire officers refused to give firefighters safety protection. To operate in unfamiliar territory firefighters need that cover. In Suffolk the chief fire officer has given that undertaking.

But the problem of public funding is a major issue in other counties. In London, Poplar fire station faces another threat of closure. Two campaigns have already been fought to keep it open in the last three years. FBU spokesperson Jim Fitzpatrick said: "If it is threatened, we will campaign again, and we will win again."

Firefighters national demonstration on 29th April: Assemble at 11.30am at Chelmsford fire station car park in Meteor Way for a march past County Hall.

Donations to: Essex Firefighters' Hardship Fund, c/o Sean Walshe, 12 Riffhams Drive, Great Baddow, Chelmsford, Essex, CM2 7DD.

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Feature


Universities for the rich?


THE DAYS of left-wing student rebellions are unlikely to happen again soon, according to the results of two surveys published last week, that show that Britain's widening wealth gap is leading to university intakes becoming increasingly dominated by the sons and daughters of the wealthy and right-wing.

Young people living in wealthy areas are five times more likely to go to University than then working class contemporaries, according to a report published last week by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The quango has found that around half of the wealthiest 25 per cent of young people, from areas with a high proportion of non-manual workers and an affluent life-style, will go to university before they are 21.

Young people living in very high income, professional neighbourhoods "with large detached properties in stockbroker belts" have a 73 per cent chance of going into higher education.

But only 11 of young people from the poorest 25 per cent, living in areas of high unemployment, and a high proportion of manual workers, will make it into higher education before they are 21.

Right at the bottom of this heap, young people living on council estates in areas of high unemployment stand only a seven per cent chance of going to university.

A greater proportion of students now begin their studies as mature students but even then there is great inequality and the chances of those from a poor background area lot less than for the better off.

The research is based on matching the postcodes of applicants to universities with information from the most recent national census (1991) which gives detailed information about small neighbourhoods of around 150 households.

An average of 30 percent of all young people go to university now. But if the proportion of those coming from deprived backgrounds were to increase to the national average, another 100,000 higher education places would be needed, expanding the current intake by one fifth.

But young people from hardup backgrounds are unlikely to be able to take up those places, even if they were available, while grants are being run-down and phased out in favour of student loans and while students find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet without the sort of financial help that only wealthy parents can give.

This unbalanced intake into universities could explain the results of another survey last week, from the High Fliers independent market research group, which found that a majority of those about to leave university for top paid jobs support the Tory party.

The survey's director, Martin Birchall, said: "Those who expect the highest salaries and the top City or other professional jobs are most likely to vote Conservative, while those who expect lower salaries and jobs in areas such as teaching or the media are keen Labour supporters.

"These are the traditional political stereotypes that both main political parties have been so keen to throw off.

"It seems that Thatcher's children are set to continue these values into a new generation of voters."
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International


Sinn Fein call for big vote in poll


SINN FEIN has called for all republicans and nationalists in the occupied north of Ireland to ensure a big vote for the party in the Westminster elections on 1 May to force the incoming British government to lift its ban on Sinn Fein's participation in all-party peace talks.

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, told some 500 delegates at their annual conference last weekend, that Sinn Fein votes would put pressure on the British government and the Unionist parties to end the ban and to begin talks. The party is contesting elections in the occupied north and southern Ireland, so their conference was limited to one day this year.

"Great expectations" was how Sinn Fein chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin described the party's hopes on the elections. He said that both new governments in Dublin and London would have a new opportunity for peace after Major's failure.

Sinn Fein is confident of winning two or three seats in northern Ireland, though all of them will refuse to take the oath of allegiance and sit in the Westminster parliament if they are returned. But a big republican vote will make it harder for the new British government to continue its policy of refusing to talk with the major nationalist force in the occupied north.

And last Monday the message was brought home to millions in Britain when rail, road and sea transport was brought to a standstill after a series of coded bomb warnings from the IRA.

Large parts of London ground to a halt on Monday morning when five London mainline terminals closed together with tube stations as police sealed off areas to check for explosives.

Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports were also closed together with Dover port causing disruption put at tens of millions of pounds.

And in northern Ireland anger is mounting following the beating up of five men by British soldiers near Cregganduff outside Crossmaglen last week. Heavily armed soldiers dressed in civilian clothes and travelling in cars arrested the men who offered no resistance.

One Irishman was beaten, then forced to kneel and further beaten until he was semiconscious. He was beaten again after the four others were taken to the Gough Barracks in Armagh. The other four received similar treatment and two have been hospitalised.

A resident who saw the site of the beatings said "it was like a butcher's yard there was so much blood".

Pat McNamee, Sim Fein candidate, for Newry/Armagh said it was "an orchestrated attack by forces which have long terrorised this area".

Raids and harassment are continuing in the Cregganduff area.

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British News


Kick out the Tories


"THE FIRST of May will see the first Labour general election victory for 23 years," Labour councillor Mustaq Lasharie told a meeting in London's Conway Hall organised by the New Worker last Thursday.

He said he was not happy with the transformed "New" Labour party. "The Labour party I joined is not the same as the Labour party is today".

But nevertheless, Labour is still better than the Tories and there will be opportunities to bring about changes, he added.

New Worker editor Ann Rogers described how the whole direction of British politics has been moving rightwards since Keynsian economics were dropped in favour of the "neoliberalism" or monetarism.

This trend began in Chile under the military dictatorship of General Pinochet after the violent overthrow and suppression of the progressive Allende government.

When Thatcher began to implement monetarism in Britain in the early 80s, many of the measures were very unpopular but jingoism generated by the Malvinas/Falklands War carried her through the 83 general election.

"Monetarism opened a gulf in the working class," Ann said, "some did fairly well and were won over. But others lost out and in bourgeois terminology these have been called an "underclass" in order to undermine working class unity and cohesion."

And she explained how this rightward drift has pulled the Labour Party leadership in its wake as the left retreated.

The Tories have achieved a lot for their class: the wealth gap has widened thanks to changes in the tax system. There have been cuts in social spending and privatisations, while wages have been pegged and cut, and anti-trade union laws tie the hands of the workers.

Ann concluded by calling on all present to campaign for a Labour election win to halt the rightward drift and then for the Labour government to be put under pressure from the working class.

NCP president Eric Trevett said John Major had ridden roughshed over a half-hearted opposition.

"The Tories have never looked like being forced out of office by Labour opportunism," he said. "The working class has been passive."

And he went on to say there has been a lack of socialist conviction in the labour movement and this is in part due to the weakness of the Communist Party.

He compared the situation to 1945 when the ruling class was in fear of the working class and conceded many reforms within the capitalist system.

"In those days the working class understood its own bargaining power." he said.

Eric also compared the leaderships of Attlee and Blair -- both right-wing social democrats and not socialist by any Marxist-Leninist definition -- but operating in totally different conditions.

"Tony Blair is a class traitor but there is still a big difference between having a Labour and a Tory government," Eric said. And he urged everyone to vote for Labour and then put pressure on the new government.

The speeches were followed by good discussion and a collection raised 220.

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