The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 26th November, 1999

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Editorial - Restore the link.
Lead Story - Killer Clinton go home!
Feature - Rail safety crisis - yesterday and today.
International - Russians advance in Chechnia.
British News - Skychef battle one year old.

Editorial

Restore the link

PENSIONERS have been actively campaigning this week and demonstrating their anger at the measly 73 pence a week increase to their pensions. They are rightly demanding that the state retirement pension be linked to average male earnings and substantially increased now.

 And even the winning of these demands would not redress the injustice done to the present generation of pensioners who have been grossly under-paid for years -- ever since the link with earnings was broken by the Thatcher government.

 The pensioners' campaign is magnificent. But it is an issue which all workers should be taking up and kicking up a row about. This is not simply because we shall all be pensioners one day, but because there have been so many kites flown in recent years suggesting that the state pension will in future become so low that it will have to be supplemented by means-tested benefits, occupational pension schemes or private pension plans if people are not to actually die from the effects of poverty.

 We are told this state of affairs is because people are now living longer -- the country, or so they assert, will not be able to afford decent state pensions because there will soon be too many pensioners.

 This appalling and inhuman argument ignores the fact that most people do not earn enough when they are working to afford the premiums required for even a small private pension. Nor does it take any account of job insecurity or the continuing problem of lower wages being paid to women.

 Above all it promotes the lie that Britain is too poor to provide a decent standard of living for everyone in their retirement. Anyone would think the country had struck some great catastrophe that had made it incapable of sustaining a system of state welfare which it found completely affordable in the late 1940s -- a time when the country had been at war for years.

 And we never hear this sort of argument put forward when it comes to meeting the costs of going to war or the maintenance of Britain's nuclear armed Trident fleet.

 These stupid arguments, which imply the workers should hurry up and die when they retire, and the false claims of national poverty, are used to conceal the truth -- that the vast wealth of Britain is for the most part in private hands and that these huge private fortunes should, in the view of the ruling class, remain largely untouched.

 The fact that working people have created all of this wealth through their labour power is of course never mentioned -- the rich would rather we believed it was their own hard graft (scanning the share columns of the financial papers and phoning their stockbroker) that earned them such enormous rewards.

 The prosperity of the leading capitalists is the result of increasing levels of exploitation -- in particular worsening working conditions, longer hours and more aggressive forms of workplace management.

 We can only bring exploitation to an end when capitalism is itself defeated and replaced with a socialist society. Until that revolutionary change is won the working class is forced to take part in a constant struggle for wages and the fruits of deferred wages (pensions and benefits).

 At the heart of the struggle for decent pensions is the battle to increase direct taxation on the rich -- unlocking more of the wealth that is in private hands. If we had a system of progressive taxation which lifted the burden from the working class and increased taxes on the rich the social wage, including pensions and benefits, could be similarly increased.

 This struggle needs to be waged, not only by today's pensioners, but by the trade unions as well. It is not good enough for unions to play along with the government by producing helpful advice to their members on how to get the best deal from workplace pension schemes and private pension plans. It is the national state retirement scheme that needs lo be fought for to ensure dignity and security for everyone today and into the future.

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Lead Story

Killer Clinton go home!

THOUSANDS of anti-Clinton protesters took to the streets of Athens last Friday defying a Greek government ban and the tear-gas and batons of the riot police. Central Athens became a battle-ground as the demonstrators tried to march on the US embassy.

 Greek Communist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga and other protest leaders tried to negotiate with the police who insisted that the 10,000-strong crowd go home.

 Clinton is hated by most Greeks for his war against Yugoslavia and Washington's backing of Turkey over Cyprus and the Aegean. Many recall that Washington was the major supporter of the Greek junta which ruled Greece from 1967 to 1973. Earlier in the week over 15,000 Greeks marched through the capital to mark the Athens Polytechnic student uprising, which though brutally crushed marked the beginning of the end for the colonels. Clinton cut short his visit -- planned for a week -- to just one day.

 Greek communists, together with other progressive forces, planned a "warm welcome" for the man some Greek papers ironically call "the ruler of the world". Protesters hung a huge banner reading "Killer Clinton" on the side of a mountain overlooking central Athens. Another giant banner hanging from Athens Panteion University in full view of Clinton's hotel bore an American flag bearing a large swastika and the names "Iraq", "Somalia", "Bosnia" and "Yugoslavia" across it.

 The Friday march began with the slogans "Nato, Americans, people killers!" and "Clinton, Killer. Go Home !". US flags were torn down in Vouli Square near parliament and effigies of the US president were burned. Over the weekend more anti-American demonstrations took place in Athens and other Greek cities. Greece is seething with anger at the role of US imperialism in the Balkans and the crawling of the Greek social-democratic PASOK government to Washington and Ankara in recent months.

 Earlier last week Clinton war in Turkey. A member of the US International Action Center gave this eye-witness account from Ankara...

 In honour of Clinton's visit to Turkey, riot police brutally attacked a protest rally here on 15 November in the main square of the country's capital.

 The demonstrators were opposing the vast US presence in Turkey and the International Monetary Fund's control of the Turkish economy. Clinton was here to attend a 18 November Istanbul meeting of the so-called Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

 About 200 protesters had barely assembled in Kizilay Meydani Square when 500 cops with clubs, shields and full body armour swept through the area, arresting at least 100 people and beating and clubbing many more.

 Demonstrators re-assembled several times as the battle moved down Mustafa Kemal Boulevard, while those arrested forced open the police-bus window to chants "Down with US imperialism!" and "Yankee go home, this country is ours!"

 Police later surrounded the offices of the Party for Socialist Power, which organised the rally, and arrested several more people.

 Clinton arrived in Turkey just after a 7.2 earthquake struck the Istanbul region. At least 700 people are known to be dead. Thousands more are injured and homeless. As in the monster quake that killed tens of thousands in Turkey in August, many who died could have lived. Most of the deaths were caused by the collapse of cheaply built apartment blocks, many built on unsuitable land by greedy contractors.

 The homeless of the Duvce region will join at least 200,000 people still living in tents since the 17 August catastrophe. The government promised them prefabricated housing before winter. But the cold weather has already arrived.

 Over a thousand coal miners from Zonguldak near the Black Sea hurried to Duvce the night of the quake to help rescue people. When I talked to them they had been working 14 hours without food or rest. Several said they were not given adequate equipment to dig through the rubble.

 The Party for Socialist Power cancelled and-Clinton protests planned for Istanbul to help the earthquake victims. Among those mobilised to help were homeless workers from Nazim Kent. This is a tent city named after the Turkish revolutionary poet Nazim Hikmet, who lived in exile in the Soviet Union until his death.

 Meanwhile the US-controlled IMF this month imposed devastating new conditions on Turkey. These include cutting social spending, limiting wage rises to well below the rate of inflation and raising the retirement age by 10 years.

 At least half of Turkey's income is used to pay interest to Western banks. It also buys weapons from the United States at close to a billion dollars a year.

 Among the IMF's victims are the self-sacrificing miners of Zonguldak, thousands of whom have lost their jobs to cutbacks demanded by the IMF.

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Feature

Rail safety crisis - yesterday and today

by Steve Metcalf

THE 'left' press has been good in its response to the scandal of rail safety. The socialists have given voice to the outrage felt by millions of people at the neglect and greed which led to the Paddington rail collision. Privatisation stands exposed, as does 'New' Labour's cop-out Public-Private Partnership scheme for the London Underground.

 The Third Way is evidently a cul-de-sac from which Blair, Mandelson and friends cannot extricate themselves (and us) without turmoil and upheaval.

 I am a Labour Party member (Executive committee in my constituency), a Company Councillor and Regional Councillor of the RMT rail union as well as Safety Rep for our members maintaining the West Coast Mainline from just north of Wigan to just north of Lancaster.

 Threats against our reps have become two-a-penny since rail maintenance was privatised in April 1996. My bosses have recently lost an Industrial Tribunal case after they tried to stop me attending a Health and Safety course at Warrington Trade Union Education.

 They are also trying to stop statutory three-monthly safety inspections by me despite warnings that they may be about to break the law. They have also arbitrarily changed how track patrols to detect faults are done, despite our protests.

 Southall, Paddington, Watford, Clapham Junction -- just four of the "accidents" to occur in recent years. Up to now the privatised companies have been lucky, even if the victims haven't. But no more, the game is up.

 Nobody with any decency or intelligence thinks privatisation has done anything but compromise the safety of both staff and travelling public on the rail system.

 At such a moment Railtrack PLC, and its cronies in the one hundred plus contracted companies, stand open and vulnerable to the present government. A recent Guardian poll showed over 70 per cent of people want the railway re-nationalised, yet the Transport Minister, Prescott, seems to be allowing the cowboys to buy time until the outrage blows over.

 Obviously Prescott is serious about "partnership" (even if very few others are) with the likes of Jarvis, whose shares rose 29p at the time of the Paddington crash -- no doubt at the prospect of getting a lion's share of the repair contract.

 Companies like Tarmac, which got involved in the Tory rail sell-off in order to make a quick killing, have also got involved in a situation where they may contribute to real killings.

no safety

 This firm is not exactly a byword for safety outside the railways. Recent statistics show it has had to pay out more in recent compensation claims to people killed and injured in its service than other companies of its type.

 With such a record, do these firms not endanger train travellers also?

 Rail's crisis is not unique. The RMT rail and maritime union is still handling the terrible sea disaster which befell our 44 members on the bulk carrier MV Derbyshire in Thatcher's 'eighties.

 We must not lose the big picture. The dogmatic drive for profit at any price proceeds apace world wide. Nor are these problems new.

 A footnote in volume 1 of Karl Marx's Capital says: "Reynolds Newspaper January 1866 -- Every week this same paper has, under the sensational headings, "Fearful and fatal accidents," "Appalling tragedies" &c, a whole list of fresh railway catastrophies".

 In the main text Marx says of this: "In London three railwaymen -- a guard, an engine driver and a signalman -- are up before a coroner's jury.

 "A tremendous railway accident has despatched hundreds of passengers into the next world. The negligence of the railway workers is the cause of the misfortune.

 "They declare with one voice before the jury that ten or twelve years before, their labour lasted only eight hours a day. During the last five or six years, they say, it has been screwed up to 14, 18, and 20 hours, and under a specially severe pressure of holiday-makers, at times of excursion trains, it often lasted for 40 or 50 hours without a break.

 "They were ordinary men, not Cyclops. At a certain point their labour-power failed. Torpor seized them. Their brain ceased to think, their eyes to see.

 "The thoroughly 'respectable' British jurymen answered by a verdict that sent them to the next assizes on a charge of manslaughter, and, ina gentle 'rider' to their verdict, expressed the pious hope that the capitalist magnates of the railway would, in future, be more extravagant in the purchase of a sufficient quantity of labour-power, and more 'abstemious', more 'self-denying', more 'thrifty' in the draining of paid labour-power."

 Sounds familiar? The 'capitalist railway magnates' are back again today. They cut staff, connive at increasing hours worked, cut corners to meet 'targets' and impress share owners. And they do it with an 'acceptable risk' outlook also -- risk to others, not themselves.

 It is our task now to stop them, forever. We workers must take everything off them, with no compensation, and run things right, for the benefit of everyone.

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International

Russians advance in Chechnia

RUSSIAN TROOPS are sweeping through the breakaway Chechen republic while others are closing the circle around the capital, Grozny. Moscow has cut-off the entire mobile phone network in the north Caucasus -- a move aimed at disrupting Chechen field command communications -- and a sign that a major offensive is under way.

 In Grozny civilians are now trapped, taking what shelter they can find while the Chechen militia vows to take on the Russians street by street if they try to storm it. And the number of Chechen refugees, who have sought shelter in neighbouring Ingushetia, is put at over 215,000.

 Federal Russian units are advancing south mopping up guerrilla bases while the Russian airforce continues its relentless pounding of what Moscow calls terrorist bases. The Chechen nationalist government and the more-or-less independent Islamic guerilla movements claim the Kremlin is targetting civilians to crush Chechenia into the ground.

 Many guerrillas are heading for the mountains, where they hope to regroup and counter-attack when winter sets in. Several thousand heavily-armed militiamen ate holding out in Grozny ready to meet the final Russian push.

 But that may not come for some time. The Kremlin doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of the last conflict -- mindful of the heavy losses suffered in the last Chechen war which ended in 1996 when Moscow agreed to withdraw from the "autonomous" republic. General Vitali Pavlov, commander of the Russian army air-force, admitted that two helicopter gunships had been shot down and scores more damaged in the campaign.

 Russian troops are trying to totally cut-off Grozny but they've made no attempt to probe its defences. Many believe they will simply try to pound and starve the city into submission over the next few months.

 Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev ruled out a full-frontal assault on Grozny on Russian television last Monday. "Population centres will be freed according to the Gudermes and Achkhoi-Martan model," he said refering the deals struck by Russian commanders and Chechen "elders" -- local leaders -- in those towns.

 But there no sign of a willingness to talk with Chechen President Asian Maskhadov, who tne Russians clearly hope will flee into exile, let alone the Islamic guerrilla leaders -- who all have a price on their heads.

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British News

Skychef battle one year old

by Renee Sams

AFTER 365 days ofofficial dispute, the Lufthansa Skychef strikers are in good heart and determined to win what has become a titanic struggle between Lufthansa bosses and the sacked workers to get their jobs back.

 Growing support for the dispute was shown by well over 400 trade unionists who attended a conference in Hammersmith Town Hall, London last Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the dispute.

 And the enormous growth in international support was marked by union representatives from LSG Skychef sites in the United States, France, Germany, Denmark and Spain attending the conference to express solidarity with the sacked Heathrow workers.

 Solidarity greetings from the international representatives were given by Debbie Anderson, Assistant Director of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (AFL-CIO/CLC).

 She assured the strikers that her union believes strongly in justice. She said: "This dispute is a simple contest workers around the world understand it."

struggle

 The struggle began on 20 November 1998 when Lufthansa Skychefs, the world's largest airline catering company, sacked 270 employees at its Heathrow based kitchens after six hours of a lawful, official one-day strike.

 Despite every effort by the Transport and General Workers' Union, Lufthansa has failed to offer any proposals which meet the workers' basic demand for reinstatement.

 TGWU general secretary Bill Morris reaffirmed his commitment to the Skychef workers and described it as "one of the most courageous fights in British trade union history.

 And he pledged the continued support of the TGWU executive and the whole union.

 He said: "It is recognised that the laws in this country are less protective than in some others and Lufthansa is taking advantage of the situation."

 He said the managers "thought that if they continued the workers would just walk away from it."

 But, he said "workers grow, and they are now growing and walking tall."

 He expressed disappointment that from the Labour Party there had been only a "deafening silence".

 "You cannot be neutral on human rights," he continued. And he called on the government to "condemn Lufthansa for sacking our members".

 "The objective is still to reach a negotiated settlement," he said. This is a message the union will continue to deliver as, he said, "There is no freedom if workers cannot take part in a legal dispute."

 Speaking for the strikers, Surinda said: "We are fighting all out We cannot fight alone. We need your help to keep up and win this struggle."

 Another striker, Jarvis, said: "We will fight to the end. We will not let Skychef get away with it."

 A message of solidarity to the strikers and their families came from TUC representative Frances O'Grady.

 "This struggle." she said, "is about exploitation and multi-cultural corporate power and the TUC is backing the Lufthansa workers in their fight for human rights."

 The conference chairperson read a message of support from London mayoral candidate Frank Dobson and a £1,000 donation was received from the Vauxhall Ellesmere Port Ford workers. The chairperson told the conference: "The Lufthansa strikers are not interested in being bought off. They are going to hold out for nothing but full reinstatement."

 Ken Livingstone MP assured the strikers he would visit them on the picket line and said: "I am sure that all the mayoral candidates will make sure they don't fly on a Lufthansa plane and that whoever becomes mayor will support the struggle."

 He recalled the Grunwick strike and that of the printworkers at Wapping where the bosses "had the same antediluvian attitude then as the Lufthansa bosses today.

 He called upon the Parliamentary Labour Party to come out and give its support.

 "We must never forget," he said, "that generations of workers have struggled to give us the basic trade union and human rights.

 "Let us stand together and fight." And he promised: "As long as it goes on, I will support you."

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