The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 25th July, 1997

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 - Peace with justice. No to Vat. & Right-wing links.
Lead Story - Loyalists set back peace talks.
Feature - Two in three women prisoners should be released.
International - Kabul bombed in new Afgan offensive.
British News - Students face mounting debts if grants are axed.


Peace with justice.

BRITISH imperialism and its reactionary backers in northern Ireland are still refusing to accept that there cannot be peace in Ireland without justice.

These elements still have to leam that the IRA has not been militarily defeated and has started its ceasefire, not out of weakness, but in the intereste of making genuine progress towards peace.

The imperialists and loyalist extremists art: still finding it hard to understand the difference between the terms "peace talks" and "surrender talks". Their demands for the decommissioning of weapons ahead of talks reveals their arrogant desire to disarm the IRA and call that "peace".

The decommissioning issue has been introduced as a potential spoiler to the talks. This is why the labour movement in Britain should speak out in defence ofjustice and progress.

This has to begin from the premise that all parties and all communities, including Sinn Fein, must be represented in the peace talks and that the British state must not bet allowed to once again put obstacles in the path of progress.

No to Vat.

THE United States-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) wants Britain to extend Value Added Tax (VAT) to food, children's clothes and books. It says such measures are needed to curb consumer spending and reduce government borrowing.

It is an admission that the crisis of capitalism is expected to deepen and, as usual, that the working class will be made to pay for it.

The proposal aims to ring-fence the rich from paying higher income tax by making everybody, including the very poorest, pay more through indirect taxes like VAT -- a system of tax as you spend.

Because VAT takes no account of income it is a disproportionate burden on the least well-off.

If Labour listens to the IMF it'll be the working class still providing the lion's share of govemment revenues and the ones forced to cut spending by doing without.

Before the election the Labour Party said it would not extend VAT to Pood, children's clothes, books, newspapers and fares during the course of this parliament. The Labour government must be held to this pledge -- and it should extend beyond the current parliament. For our patt, the New Worker has always opposed VAT as an anti-working class tax and we call for it to be abolished altogether.

For nearly two decades the wealthy have enjoyed a tax bonanza worth billions of pounds following the Thatcher government's "generous" lowering of the top tax rates. It is high time this situation was put into reverse and a policy of progressive direct taxation introduced.

Right-wing links.

THE millions who put Tony Blair into 10 Downing Street last May voted for a Labour government.

They did not think they were voting for Paddy Ashdown and his Liberal-Democrat cronies to become part of the new Cabinet.

The decision to invite Lib-Dems into the Cabinet room, albeit in a consultative capacity, is a high-handed flouting of the electorates' wishes and an insult to the many activists who worked so hard for Labour's victory.

Since the government has a massive majority and doesn't need the support of other parties to stay in offi ce its motive can only be to strengthen the position of the centre-right against the left and the trade unions.

We note too that the European elections will be conducted under a system of proportional representation. We need to be vigilant and ensure that this is not the thin of the wedge for other elections, especially with the development of a cosy relationship between Blair and Ashdown (whose party has long sought a PR system).

PR would be a setback to the worldng class as it tends towards govemments made up of coalitions of the centre right. Outright Labour majorities would be almost impossible to achieve in those conditions.

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Lead Story

Loyalists set back peace talks.

But process continues, says Mowlam.

HOPES that the northern Ireland peace process would be lifted forward, stumbled last Wednesday when Unionist parties, after over three hours of talks, voted against the Anglo-Irish decommissioning proposals which admit Sinn Fein to all-party talks before any IRA weapons are handed over.

As we went to press, Sinn Fein's chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said on Radio 4 that the unionists' action "threatens the peace process" by their "refusal to engage" in it.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the process will nonetheless move forward despite the fact it was "at a tricky stage". Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlem said talks would reconvene on Monday and at a press conference with Irish foreign minister Ray Burke, she reaffirmed that the process would continue.

Ray Burke said that he was determined "to move to substantive talks on 15 September". And the SDLP's Seamus Mallon said that a "major setback" can also be followed by a "major advance".

Last Tuesday Irish Premier Bertie Ahern, recognising that the document might fall, said he would nonetheless stick at trying "to create the conditions for substantial negotiations in as inclusive a way as is possible."

The fact that the Ulster Unionists have rejected the document -- six amendments presented to Tony Blair by David Trimble were not accepted -- but declared that they remain in the process, is grounds enough to believe this can be overcome in the interim.

The decision by David Trimble's Ulster Unionists, Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the UK Unionist Party of Robert McCartney, to reject the document exacerbates divisions in the unionist camp.

Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Ian Paisley, following talks at Downing Street last Tuesday, declared the peace process "dead in the water". On Wednesday on Radio 4 he declared that there was "nothing in the process for the union, unionists or law-abiding citizens". He said "the gunmen have taken over.


And he called upon the Ulster Unionists to unite with them on the "union express" against what Paisley called a "surrender to the IRA".

Conspicuously absent from the talks and from media attention immediately after the unionist decision, David Trimble's forces -- the dominant party to reckon with -- will be seeking further "clarification" of the document.

The immediate basis for inclusive talks was laid by the IRA's second ceasefire, effective from midday 20 July, and the rising unity of community action resisting Orange Order parades through Catholic areas.

Announcing its cessation of "military operations", the IRA said in a statement last Saturday that it was "prepared to enhance the search for a democratic peace settlement through real and inclusive negotiations." It also said that British domination, which the IRA is "committed to ending", is "the root cause of division and conflict in our country."

Gerry Adams aptly described what the Unionists had to face up to last week: They needed "decommissioning" of the mind. He said: "We all need to declare ceasefires in our minds".

He went on: "I think the leadership of unionism needs to recognise and understand what we believe the unionist people want to see. What we need is real negotiations, not useless recriminations."

And as Sinn Fein chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said last Saturday: "The hopes and expectations of people throughout Ireland and abroad rest on the willingness of political leaders to move forward into a new era for Ireland free from domination and exclusion."

But Gerry Adams also warned last week, referring to the meaning of the ceasefire, there is no place for "word games". And from 15 September every utterance within the walls of Stormont Castle will have an altogether different weight.

Last Sunday, Irish Premier Bertie Ahern, interviewed on RTE's This Week radio programme, said his northern Ireland advisor Martin Mansergh had been in daily contact with Sinn Fein from the moment Fianna Fail took office. He said, as far as the talks were concerned: "Anything negotiated will be put to the people, north and south, on the same day requiring the agreement of both communities."

That date must mark the official turning-point for all the deadly gambits that characterised British foreign policy right up to the Drumcree debacle. The spotlight will be sharply focused on all the issues, not just decommissioning.

"This time Sinn Fein can discuss the substance of their mandate on an equal footing -- and with international interest growing more attentive. Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, said at a Bogside rally last Tuesday that Sinn Fein's agenda argues for an "end to British rule on this island."

He said: "We are putting down quite clearly before we go into talks that, before we start negotiations, we go there with a very firm political agenda to assert the rights of Irish nationalists and republicans to peace and freedom in their own country."

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Two in three women prisoners should be released.

by Caroline Colebrook
THE CHIEF Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, last week called for around two thirds of women prisoners, who pose no security risk, to be released with community service sentences. Most of the rest could be moved to open jails.

He said only one third of women prisoners pose a threat to the public and should be behind bars.

And he called for more purpose-built open jails for women on the outskirts of large towns to make it easier for their families to visit.

His demands came in a report following an inquiry into the running of Britain's 15 women's jails, which house around 2,650 inmates -- just five percent of the total prison population.

The inquiry was instigated after his walk-out last year from Holloway prison after he found conditions there appalling, with infestations of rats and cockroaches.

He made 160 rccommendations, including ending the of strip searches "as an instrument of control or intimidation" and restrictions on the use: of handcuffs on women prisoners.

He said that around 70 percent of women prisoners "don't pose a security risk which says they "must be in prison. There may well be some for whom another form of sentencing may well be more appropriate."

He added that he was particularly worried about the large number of women held on remand for long periods, awaiting trial, especially as only 34 percent were subsequently given prison sentences.

Labour's prisons minister, Joyce Quin, agreed on the need to speed up the remand process. "There are too many on remand," she said, "and for quite long periods on remand -- and that is the most pressing problem that I see."

The inquiry revealed that most women inmates had never been in prison before. Two thirds were mothers of children under 16 and on average they had three children each.

Most have poor records of education and employment.

A high proportion had severe emotional or mental problems and 80 reported having been physically or sexually abused in the past.

Two thirds were serious drug abusers before going to prison and 40 percent had attempted suicide.

The report concluded that there is an urgent need for a thorough analysis of the needs of women prisoners and recommended that the women's prison system be managed as one entity with a single director who is responsible and accountable for all that happens within women's prisons.

It said: "Many of the failings we observed appeared to be the result of serious inadequacies in the overall organisation and management of prisons for women in this country."

The director of the prison service, Richard Tilt, welcomed the report and commented that currently the number of women prison inmates is increasing at twice the rate for men.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said he wanted to increase the number of female prison inmates to create a "non-confrontational" atmosphere in jails.

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Kabul bombed in new Afgan offensive

THE AFGHAN capital of Kabul was rocked by two air-raids last weekend as anti-Taliban forces pushed forward against the reactionary Taliban militia which is supported by Pakistan.

At least two bombs exploded close to the centre of the city, but the intensity ofground fire made the thumping booms difficult to distinguish from outgoing fire. Considerable damage and some loss of life was caused by the bombings but the intended target, Kabul international airport was unscathed.

Troops loyal to General Ahmad Masood, a leader in the anti-Taliban northern alliance, have captured a key provincial capital and an air-base just 40 km from Kabul in fierce fighting which left over 700 Taliban fighters dead. The northern alliance militia is now within easy rocket range of the capital.

The northern alliance, led by General Masood and Uzbek warlord General Abdul Malik, is demanding the demilitarisation of Kabul before any cease-fire. Taliban, whose reactionary fundamentalist militia controls two thirds of the country, will only consider a cease-fire if all their prisoners are released.

The anti-Taliban front is believed to be holding over 3,600 Taliban prisoners, including several leaders of the Islamic students militia seized in fighting in the northern capital of Mazar-eSharif.
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British News

Students face mounting debts if grants are axed.

THE government looks set to scrap higher education maintenance grants and to introduce a means-test for the payment of tuition fees. The grants would be replaced by more student loans.

The plan would mean many young people, especially working class students, starting their working lives up to their necks in debt. Others would simply not apply for a university place at all.

Education Secretary David Blunkett told the House of Commons last Wednesday that changes were needed to tackle a funding crisis in higher education.

The same day, Sir Ron Dearing's report on the future of universities and colleges was published. This too called for changes in the funding of higher education on the grounds that the taxpayer could not be expected to continue footing the bill.

But his report, though it called for students to pay towards the cost of tuition, did not share the Education Secretary's view that maintenance grants should cease. He argued that grants were necessary if working class students were to continue in higher education.

The measures follow years of education cuts affecting students. The Tories reduced student grants and introduced the loans scheme and also changed benefit rules to prevent students signing-on in the holidays and qualifying for Housing Benefit.

They argued that students should take holiday jobs instead despite the fact that the recession had made jobs extremely difficult to find.

The new government's proposals amount to a fundamental attack on the principle of "education for all" and will effectively exclude many working class people from Britain's colleges and universities. It is a step backwards to the days when higher education was a privilege reserved for the well-off.


It should be said that the present government did not create the problems in education funding -- it inherited them from the Tories who had underfunded the education and health services for years.

But It is nonetheless utterly wrong to push the burden onto young people from low income families or to saddle graduates with debts of thousands of pounds to pay back over a number of years.

It would also be wrong for the government to consider financing one section of education by robbing another.

The answer has to be through raising income tax at the highest level in a system of progressive taxation. The huge fortunes of the wealthy are created by the labour of working people. Under capitalism, direct taxation is the only means of ensuring thrt society can benefit from the wealth it has made.

If this is not done the working class will be made to pay and suffer the effects of cutbacks in all areas of social provision.

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