The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 27th May 2005

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Confusion over Europe and ID cards

by Daphne Liddle

that Blair is subtly preparing to resign in favour of Gordon Brown was raised last week as Brown was brought back on to the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee during Blair’s shake-up of the inner structure of his government.

Brown has been taking a much more prominent role. A week ago he was talking to trade unionists, telling them why the Government would not accept the European Parliament decision to end the concessionary opt-out clause of the 48-hour working time directive, even though employers have consistently abused this supposedly voluntary opt-out to coerce workers into agreeing to work longer hours than are healthy for them.
red tape

Then last Tuesday he spoke to the Confederation of British Industry, promising to cut “red tape” to allow capitalism to make more profits with fewer restrictions.

 He also promised that Britain will use its six-month presidency of the EU to reduce “red tape” throughout Europe.

 By “red tape”, he means health and safety regulations and other laws protecting workers. It is a slap in the face to all those around the country who commemorated Workers’ Memorial last month.

 The first objections came from Prospect, the union of professional civil servants that represent health and safety inspectors.

 “If the threat of inspection is removed,” said Prospect assistant general secretary Dai Hudd, “what incentive have companies got to maintain best practice? And without inspection, how will the Government know that a company is failing to meet standards?

 “It’s our members experience that only inspection and real enforcement can protect citizens, whether as employees, consumers, patients, environmentalists, motorists, travellers, home-owners or farmers.”

 He added: “Along with the TUC, Prospect is especially concerned that the Chancellor’s anti-regulation drive will endanger the health and safety at work of millions of employees. Injuries and deaths at work increased last year and we fear this trend will accelerate that process.”

 Blair seems to be dithering and the week has seen a stream of confusing messages on major policy issues emanating from Downing Street.
at first

On the European constitution treaty first we heard that Foreign Secretary Jack Straw saying that Britain would wait for the result of the French referendum, due this weekend, before committing to a referendum in Britain.

 Then we heard that Blair was to make an announcement saying the Government would go ahead anyway with a referendum here – but the announcement never came.

 Opinion polls indicate that the French are likely to reject the EU constitution. A referendum in Holland is also likely to vote against it. If that happens, it is unlikely there will be constitution left for people in Britain to vote on.

 The most likely scenario is that the constitution will be redrafted and then submitted anew for EU member states to vote on again – and again and again until they agree to it. But that will take a long time.

It is true that the draft EU constitution, if implemented, would be a fundamental attack on democracy and workers’ rights throughout the continent. But right now it seems less likely to happen than it did when it was first drafted.

  There has been further confusion over the contentious proposals to bring in compulsory identity cards.

 A week ago, Blair seemed in a hurry to get this through Parliament as quickly as possible and defy his backbench rebels. Then, on Tuesday, we were told the publication of the Bill might be delayed. It seems that Blair and Home Secretary Charles Clarke had been doing their sums and realised that the number of rebels likely to vote against was bigger than the 19 who voted against the same measure earlier this year, when the Bill was introduced but ran out of time before the election.


Gwyneth Dunwoody, Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich, told Clarke that opposition to the Bill is now stronger. “There are some of us in this House who are deeply uneasy about this scheme, who believe that it is a question of civil rights,” she said.

 “It is one that disturbs us very greatly and the history of police forces or governments holding every element of information about people’s lives is not that they are always used responsibly, but used in some instances by governments for the worst possible reasons.”

 Clarke’s desperation on the issue was indicated by his appeal to the Tories to stop hiding behind “fig leaves” and back the Bill – and rescue Blair in the process.

 On Wednesday Blair backed the still unpublished Bill. But he no longer used the bankrupt argument that it could stop terrorism. Instead he appealed to people’s fear of identity theft and fraud. The truth is that computer databases containing lots of personal information about people – like the one that will be needed for the identity cards – actually make identity theft a lot easier.

 Once someone – for instance a corrupt official – has access to the database, they can learn so much about their intended victim that it is far easier to impersonate them. It is much easier and quicker – and less messy – than raiding their dustbins for thrown away gas bills and such.

 Blair is wobbling. He must go now – and so must Brown.


When the spending had to stop

TWO WEEKS ago it was Sainsburys, last week Boots and this week Marks and Spencer, hitting the headlines with sharp falls in profits. Consumers are being more cautious with their purses. It’s true that Sainsburys reported an increase in sales but it had to cut prices to achieve that so much that profits fell.

 Credit card borrowing fell by £40 million last month, according to the leading banks. Visa says more people are opting for debit cards now rather than credit cards.

 The number of house repossessions is soaring and last year banks had to write off £6 billion in bad loans. After hitting a record £1 trillion total for personal debt in Britain last year, personal bankruptcies are now also soaring.

 Job losses are hitting the headlines again. The Rover factory has closed with 4,000 job cuts with the knock-on effect of many more cuts to come in the Longbridge area. Thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector are due to go. Marconi, Hotpoint and Waterford are just some of the big companies shedding jobs. The cuts are affecting other sectors too. The BBC is planning 4,000 job cuts and the Government is also planning to cut vast swathes of civil service jobs.

 Financial experts are expecting half a million jobs to go in the next three years. Former Bank of England economist John Butler predicts 225,000 jobs will be gone by the middle of next year.

 No wonder people are becoming more wary about over spending.

 For the last few years Britain has escaped the economic chill that has engulfed most of Europe, leading to high unemployment there. Our economy has been buoyed by high spending, people spending money they do not have, building up big credit card bills, taking out loans and second mortgages and then working horrendously long hours to pay them off.

 The bosses and the financiers have loved it. Working all those long hours we have made fortunes for them. They don’t mind a few bad debts from workers who collapse under the strain so long as the rest of us keep paying those interest rates – and by working all hours creating extra surplus value profits for the boss while we do it. We are still bombarded by advertisements to take out more and more personal loans.

 It tends to make us a nation of exhausted, stressed-out workaholics, who rarely see our children. Some young workers, up to their ears in debt, can only relax and forget their worries by drinking a lot of alcohol and behaving badly when they do have an evening off. Europeans handle booze better because they work fewer hours and can go about it at a more leisurely pace.

 Our employment laws mean we can be hired and fired much more easily than our European fellow workers. This attracts the worst kind of employers. It means we have jobs but not secure jobs. And every time good, well-paid manufacturing jobs are lost they are replaced by low-wage, insecure horrible jobs. In Britain and in Europe, the capitalist class screws us one way or another.

 But the situation here could not last and now we are seeing the first frosts of a rapidly approaching economic downturn. Britain cannot buck the trend of global economic downturn. This is an inevitable part of the capitalist system.

 Capitalists have tried time and again to break the cycle of boom and bust – through Keynesianism, through consumerism and through monetarism. All they do is postpone the inevitable for a little and find themselves in a worse position than before.

 It is a system with built-in instability and a tendency to create international conflict in the desperate scramble for new markets. It is a system that plunders the planet for a quick buck and makes long-term planning impossible.

 It is a system we must get rid of and replace with workers’ power – with socialism.

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