The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 27th February, 1998

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Editorial - No to war! No to sanctions!
Lead Story - Firefighters challenge cuts.
Feature - Hospital waiting lists still growing.
International - Annan brokers new Iraq deal.
British News -Prison officers to challenge anti-union laws.


 No to war! No to sanctions!

THE danger of an imminent military attack on Iraq has receded following top level talks between United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

But this welcome news does not mean the crisis has gone away. The Anglo-American war machine is still anchored in the Gulf and Clinton and Blair have still got their fingers on the trigger.

They now want the UN to agree that any breach of the latest agreement should be met by an instant military attack. This aggressive measure would allow the US to go to war at any time by announcing that UNSCOM inspectors have in some way been impeded in their work and would in any case keep US military forces in the Gulf on combat alert for an indefinite period.

This provocative and bullying proposal has to be defeated -- not least by putting pressure on the British government who are at present willingly playing along with it.

Last week's agreement has held the warplanes and missiles at bay. But this has not come about, as Washington and London say, because of military pressure, nor was it just a result of the undoubted diplomatic skills of Kofi Annan.

Right from the start the Anglo-American axis was virtually alone. It was becoming increasingly isolated in its warlike posture and faced mounting pressure to step back from the brink of war.

None of the other countries which took part in the Coalition seven years ago would agree tojoin the latest armada. The other countries on the UN Security Council -- Russia, China and France -- wanted to find a peaceful solution. And there was solidarity with Iraq from the Arab countries, including its near neighbours.

In addition, there have been growing protests to the Anglo-US war threats at home. US Secretary of State Madelaine Albright was even shouted down at a public meeting in the United States Mid-West. The demonstrations for peace have grown bigger by the day in both Britain, the US and throughout the world.

There was even opposition to a new war in the Gulf from traditionally pro-establishment quarters -- many expressed grave doubts about the military purpose of the war, which was never made clear. And many feared the war would spread throughout the region and have unforseen consequences for business interests in the Middle East as a whole.

But, though the immediate danger has lessened, there is not yet peace in the Gulf. The war of attrition that has been waged against Iraq for the past seven years has by no means ended. The sanctions, have already killed one and a half million Iraqis, are themselves an on-going war against the civilian population.

British and US politicians have tried to argue that sanctions have not been responsible for stopping medical supplies reaching Iraq and blamed the Iraqi government for shortages. This is a monstrous lie.

Medicines are not, in theory, blockaded. But, in practice, they are subjected to approval and anything that is deemed to be capable of having a military use, however unlikely and remote, is forbidden. This means that medicines with radioactive-isotopes and so on are disallowed -- many patients, including cancer patients, are dying needlessly from these ridiculous and punitive rules.

It is therefore vital that the campaigns for peace in the Gulf continue to grow and that the murderous sanctions are regarded as seriously as a shooting war. After all, the parents of a dying Iraqi child would make no distinction between a slow death by sanctions and a quick death by a US bomb -- it's still death and it's still war!

A great deal has been said in the past few weeks about weapons of mass destruction. And we too oppose these terrible arsenals, whoever they belong to.

One thing is certain -- The US and Britain have the largest arsenals of nuclear weapons in the world. If Cook, Blair and Co are so worried about them perhaps they will make a start on the problem by scrapping Trident !

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Lead Story

Firefighters challenge cuts.

by Daphne Liddle
LONDON Firefighters are balloting for strike action against threats to close two fire stations -- Shooters Hill and the Barbican -- while Labour MPs and councillors pass the buck from one to another as to who is to blame.

The cuts were first proposed last autumn by the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority (LFCDA) -- a body created after the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986 to run London's fire services. It has one councillor from each London borough serving on it.

The original package of cuts included three fire stations plus many jobs, engines and so on all across London. The LFCDA said it needed an extra £16.5 million to meet pension commitments and avoid cuts.

The Fire Brigades Union reacted immediately, condemning the cuts and saying it would consider industrial action if they were implemented.

The Labour goverunent then came up with an extra £4.4 million funding for the LFCDA in order to avert the cuts and said the rest could be made up from reserves.

The LFCDA went away and thought about it and came back with a slightly scaled down package of cuts, which it endorsed at a meeting last Thursday (19 February) in spite of a huge and noisy lobby outside by hundreds of firefighters from all over London.

Just a week before the residents of Shooters Hill had joined their local firefighters in a huge 15,000-strong local protest march.

This is the fourth time in recent years they have had to rally to defend their station against the threat of closure.

It is not as busy as some but it is situated at the top of the hill which marks the highest point in southeast London. Roads there are very steep and in bad weather, if there is a fire in that area, it is sometimes impossible for engines from outside the immediate area to get there in time.

And its closure would inevitably increase response times in that area. Within the last six weeks or so there have been at least two incidents where firefighters from that station have saved children's lives, being the first to arrive on the scene of a fire.

If the station were gone and the response time just a fraction longer, those lives would probably have been lost.

The building would fetch an enormous price in the private sector for conversion to luxury flats because of the stunning views all across London, Kent and Essex.

The community around the Barbican has also been very active, collecting a huge petition that was presented inside a mock giant cigarette packet to the LFCDA meeting last Thursday.

Outside the building in Lambeth on the south bank of the Thames, MPs Ken Livingstone, Vincent Cable and Clive Efford (the Shooters Hill station is situated in his constituency) were telling the crowd that the £4.4 million was more than enough to keep the two threatened stations open.

Inside, under instructions from their district auditor, the councillors of the LFCDA decided that the £4.4 million would best be used to bolster the brigade's depleted reserves.

So the London FBU is balloting for a rolling programme of one-shift strikes and the result will be known on 2 March.

The anti-union laws force them to specify that the strike is just about these closures.

But behind this is a history of cut after cut, year after year, that has left London -- and the rest of the country -- with less fire cover than we need. Ken Livingstone told the assembled firefighters that in 1979, the GLC had made a thorough study and concluded that London needs at least 7,000 firefighters and the service was built to that level.

Since then between 1,100 and 1,200 jobs have been lost from the service and the fire service cover is that much less than it should be.

Shortage of staff means that firefighters cannot be released for training as often as they need.

Lack of up to the minute training in firefighting techniques puts the lives of the firefighters and the public they serve at risk.

Over the past decade or so lives have already been lost because of this. The firefighters are angry. They are prepared to risk their lives for us where it is necessary but it is outrageous to ask them to take unnecessary risks due to lack of funding.

One London firefighter told the New Worker that London's fire services are now stretched so tight they probably would not be able to cope with two major disasters simultaneously.

So far this has not happened, we've all been lucky. But it is only a matter of time.

Meanwhile the LFCDA is prepared to spend an initial £500,000 plus £l million per week for the length of the dispute to put antiquated army green goddesses fire engines on the streets if there is a strike.

This will quickly wipe out the £4.4 million extra from their reserves.

On the other hand it is estimated that keeping the two fire stations open for a year would cost only £1.6 million.

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Hospital waiting lists still growing.
by Caroline Colebrook
 HOSPITAL waiting lists last week hit a record 1.26 million in spite of Labour's election pledge last May that reducing these waiting lists would be among its top priorities.

 The release of the figures last Friday, which showed that the lists have grown by 100,000 since Labour came to power, prompted the government to pledge an extra sum between £1.5 and £2 billion to tackle the waiting lists -- to be paid later in the year.

The government is, predictably, blaming the previous Tory government, although Health Secretary Frank Dobson did admit: "I have to take some responsibility for them".

 The rise happened in spite of an extra £300 million allocated to the National Health Service last autumn.

 This money was directed mainly to prioritising emergency cases and avoiding the scenes of previous winters with emergency admissions queuing on trolleys for beds for days on end.

 This means that many hospitals cancelled their waiting list operation programmes to keep beds free for emergencies.

 But this winter has been quite mild and the waiting lists have still grown. They are growing more rapidly than ever -- up 19 per cent in just one quarter to the end of last December.

 Mr Dobson claimed: "If you are dealing with emergencies, you can't put much effort into waiting lists."

 He added: "From the moment we took office, we made clear the top priority for the NHS was to avoid a winter crisis, even if this meant that waiting lists would rise."

 And he insisted the government would keep its promise to reduce waiting Lists -- by the next election.

 Dr Sandy Macara, speaking for the British Medical Association, pinpointed the real problem: "The fact that the figures are rising despite the best efforts of the NHS staff, despite the extra winter money and despite the mild weather, simply highlights the urgent need to improve the financial base of the service."

 Labour may be able to blame the Tories for the state of the NHS when they took power. But they cannot blame the Tories for the fact that they have maintained the Tories' financial policies that got the NHS into that state and are now making things even worse.

This is all the more obscene since it was revealed last week that tax revenues have provided the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, with around a billion more than was predicted in last November's budget.

 And it is all the more inexcus able that Labour is continuing to close hospitals while the waiting lists are growing.

waiting in pain

 Meanwhile many of the people on those lists are waiting in pain or severe discomfort as the chances of them getting the treatment they need seem to fade ever further and further into the distance.

 Many will become emergencies before they get their treatments. Many conditions will worsen to the point where the treatment will not be nearly so effective as if it was carried out straight away. Some patients will die waiting.

  Around 5,000 patients have been fitted with a type of artificial hip joint that has subsequently proved to be faulty.

 The Department of Health last week issued a warning that these replacements could come loose in the body and erode healthy bones to which it is attached. reducing the chances of success of any future replacement.

 They will also be causing a lot of pain.

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Annan brokers new Iraq deal.

by our Middle East Affairs correspondent
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL Kofi Annan was cheered in the streets of Baghdad following his talks with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council last week-end.

 And the Secretary-General got a hero's welcome from his own staff at UN Headquarters in New York on his return from a mission which has staved off the threat of a new Anglo-American attack against Iraq -- at least for the time-being.

 After prolonged talks the Iraqi government agreed to allow the UN weapons inspectors unrestricted access to all the presidential and other sites they chose. While making it clear to Annan that they want and expect the speedy end to all sanctions when the teams have completed their mission.

 The seven-point agreement was endorsed by all the members of the UN Security Council including Britain and the United States whose war-drive was running into increasing opposition -- not least from the three other veto-powers, People's China, Russia and France.

 But British and American acceptance has been grudging and new diplomatic moves are afoot -- led by Britain -- for a new UN resolution to empower the Nato powers to use force at will against Iraq if they deem that the Baghdad government is obstructing the future work of the weapons inspectors.

Chinese warning

 British and American imperialism have drawn back from the brink in the face of mounting opposition from the peace movements in both countries and the growing resistance to a new Western waragainst Iraq throughout the non-aligned movement backed by Beijing, Moscow and Paris.

'war must not be waged'

 Only days before the Annan mission Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen told The Irish Times that " A war must not be waged in order to continue the inspection work, because a war cannot resolve the issue". And he significantly refused to rule out the possibility of a Chinese veto on the Security Council to block the use of force against Iraq.

Russia and France have also expressed their public pleasure at the Annan's success, due in part to their intensive diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis.

lift sanctions Arabs demand

 But the central and still unresolved issue is the end of the cruel Western blockade of Iraq which has led to the deaths of over a 1.5 million Iraqis since it was imposed in 1990.

 The Western powers have now agreed to double the amount of oil Iraq can export under the existing "oil-for-food" arrangements. But this still goes nowhere near meeting the people's pressing needs for food and medicines which it can easily pay for if it is allowed to return to normal oil production.

 The demand for an end to the blockade has spread throughout the Arab world from the Atlantic to the Gulf amongst the masses and from the governments themselves -- defying crude British and American arm-twisting to toe the imperialist line.

 They all draw the comparison between America's vengeful treatment of Iraq and its collusion with Israel's defiance of past UN resolutions and world opinion in Palestine.

 Egyptian President Husni Mubarak, accused his American allies of applying double-standards in an interview with CNN last week.

 "At any seminar, I met the same question. If Iraq is not implementing the UN resolutions, Israel is doing the same. If Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, Israel has the same weapons," the Egyptian leader said.

 Not one Arab country, with the dubious exception of the puppet Sultan of Kuwait, backed the Anglo-American war-drive -and most, including Washington's major regional allies Like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, publicly came out against it.

Palestine not forgotten

Now the Arabs are focusing on the two crucial issues which threaten peace in the region -the blockade of Iraq and the collapse of the Palestinian "peace process". The issues are linked because both problems are entirely due to American arrogance and Washington's refusal to seriously consider any legitimate Arab demands.

 But US and British prestige in the Middle East, the region it plunders every day by looting the Arabs' oil-wealth for the benefit of the big oil corporations, is at its lowest for years.

 The Arabs are demanding justice for Iraq and for Palestine. The West ignores them at its peril.

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British News

Prison officers to challenge anti-union laws.
 PRISON Officers throughout Britain are considering taking unlawful industrial action in a bid to win back their right to strike which was removed by the Tories' in 1994.

 Some 300 delegates repcesenting 30,000 prison officers in England, Wales and Scotland met at the TUC for a special conference last week, after the Labour government reneged on its pledge to restore their right to strike.

 They voted to support any industrial action taken by fellow members and that if the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, tries to use the courts against them, or declare any action illegal, the whole Prison Officers' Association (POA) will take national industrial action.

 Health and safety issues are the most frequent areas of conflict between this union and the employers -- the Home Office.

 And POA national chairperson Mark Healy warned that a confrontation could happen "within weeks" at any prison in Britain, including the occupied north of Ireland.

 "If they use this Tory anti-union law against one of our branches, they will have a national dispute on their hands," he warned.

 The Tories outlawed strikes by prison officers in the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

 Since last May's general election there have been six short disputes involving unofficial industrial action inside prisons.

 The POA has the support of TUC general secretary John Monks in its stance. He told the conference delegates: "What looked easy in opposition suddenly looked hard in government

 "The atmosphere is alive with promises not being honoured in the spirit, even if it is now being claimed that some of the words contain escape clauses.

 "You expected it was only a matter of time before you got back your right to strike and private prisons came back into public ownership."

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