The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 28th March, 1997

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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 - Blood on Israel's hands. & Where's the money?
Lead Story - Stand up to Tory scare-mongering - support trade union rights.
Feature - Housing association loans privatised.
International - Zaire rebels push forward.
British News - No to Essex fire service cuts!



Editorial


Blood on Israel's hands.


THE eruption of anger and violence in Hebron and the West Bank stems directly from the decision of the Israeli government to start building a new Jewish settlement in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

The act of sending in the bulldozers is nothing short of publicly spitting on the Oslo peace accord and has put the lives of both Jews and Arabs at risk.

Above all it shows that the Netanyahu govemment, which has a majority of only one seat in the Knesset, has chosen to rely upon the backing of Israel's far-right, Zionist elements. And this choice reflects the hardline position of his own Likud bloc.

Netanyahu did not have to go down this road. He could have turned to the Israeli Labour Party -- who negotiated the peace terms when they were in office and who are committed to seeing the peace process advance. He could have heeded the demands for peace reflected in the vote for Labour, the communists and the Israeli Arab parties at the last election. He has chosen confrontation.

Palestinian anger is completely justified. The building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land is a monstrous act of state aggression for which Israel should stand condemned.

Netanyahu is now trying to push the blame for the bombing in Tel Aviv and the street violence in Hebron onto Yasser Arafat, supporters of Hamas and the Palestinian security forces. But his bleating complaints cannot conceal or excuse his government's blatant acts of provocation and injustice and Israel's responsibility for the state of conflict that exists.

The Israeli government's actions will not only inflame the people of Palestine. Many Israelis support the peace process and oppose the reactionary elements who constantly clamour for more and more Jewish settlements to be built.

For it is clear that the settlement building policy of the Zionist extremists is not just a housing programme -- it is a political campaign aimed at squeezing Palestinians off their land and concretising Israeli expansionism. These elements do not want peace at all. If the building work is not halted in East Jerusalem the Israeli govemment will face mounting criticism and anger from within Israel as well as from the Palestinians and many peoples around the world.

Currently the people of Iraq are still suffering the imposition of United Nations sanctions, even though the govemment of Iraq has met the conditions laid down by the UN at the end of the Gulf War.

But the long-standing UN Resolutions condemning Israel and its occupation of Palestine have never been acted upon. This situation should be addressed now. The sanctions against Iraq should be lifted and the just cause of Palestine given the international support that it deserves and which is long overdue.

***************

Where's the money?

CHANCELLOR Kenneth Clarke is doing his bit for the Tories' election campaign by trying to breath new life into the so-called "feel good factor".

He says the economy is recovering, inflation is low, employment is up and confidence is growing.

But while the Chancellor is telling us how good things are, disabled people face cuts in community care services if their local authority cannot find the money. And the reason local authorities are so strapped for cash is because central government underfunds local councils, caps local taxation and limits borrowing.

Right across the board public services and social spending are squeezed every year. So if the economy is improving why is this happening?

There are signs of a modest upturn in the economy compared to five or six years ago and of course the Tories would like us to think this was due to their good management.

But cycles of economic ups and downs are features of the capitalism system throughout the world.

The serious recession of the early nineties has, for now, levelled out and the economy has picked up a little. It does not amount to a boom. The improvement is modest and eventually the cycle will move on and recession recur.

But Tory management has achieved something -- it's ensured that the benefits of the upturn go mostly to the wealthy. The rest of us suffer the cutbacks in public spending so that top tax levels can continue to be very low.

Give the Tories a bad day on May 1 -- vote Labour everywhere!
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Lead Story


Stand up to Tory scare-mongering -


support trade union rights

LABOUR'S draft business manifesto, which was leaked to the press at the start of last week, included a modest proposal that would secure recognition for trade unions in firms where a majority of the workforce are trade union members.

The proposal says: "The minimum standards should include people being free to join or not to join a trade union. And where they do decide to join it, and where there is a majority vote in a ballot for it, the union should be recognised".

It means the firms concerned would then have to acknowledge the union in negotiations.

Labour's proposal, though it is only a small advance and falls well short of restoring the trade union rights removed by the Thatcher and Major govemments, provoked an outcry from the Tories.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine described it as "Labour chaos" and foretold a new age of "licensed industrial blackmail".

He said: "These plans will send a shiver down the spine of every businessman in the land".

The Prime Minister warned that Labour "would begin to tip the balance back in favour of the unions, Labour's paymasters".

The Tory press joined in. The editorial in last Monday's Daily Telegraph said the pledge "is pregnant with potential trouble" and went on to recall the industrial actions in 1979, before the anti-union laws were introduced.

The bosses and the Tory party that supports them want their anti union legislation kept intact.

Indeed, if they win the election they would impose further measures as they set about further shackling the public sector unions.

They are perfectly happy to pass laws telling unions what they can and cannot do,how they should conduct their strike ballots, how many people can stand on a picket line, which workers they can give solidarity to and so on.

suggestion

But the very suggestion that workers should have a right to join a union and for that union to be recognised is regarded as a horrendous attack on the freedom of the bosses.

Some of the squealing protests tried to raise alarm over the economy -- claiming that Labour's plan could open the door to industrial unrest, and ruin the country. What they really worry about is industrial action that could force them to return to the workers a little bit more of the profits -- profits created by the workers in the first place.

The scare-mongering is not just designed to win votes. It is also intended to bully the Labour leaders into a retreat.

success

And this does seem to be having some success.

Shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown quickly reacted by trying to water down the proposal and promised journalists that more work would have to go into the plan before the final draft was published.

Labour leader Tony Blair too was at pains to reassure business people that his govemment would not "return to the trade union laws of the 1970s".

But there can be no doubt thar the ferocious attack on our trade union movement under the Tories has been a severe setback to the whole of the working class. It is vital that Labour is not deflected from progressive proposals, however modest, by Tory scare-mongering.

The loud protests on behalf of the bosses should now be countered by strong and loud voices giving support to the principal of trade unionism, calling for the restoration of trade union rights and urging the Labour Party to stand firm.

forthright

The case has to put for rolling back the Tory anti-union laws and the argument won -- not apologetically but in forthright and clear terms.

It is obvious from the last week's tirades of protest that there is no reason for the majority of people -- the working class -- to return the Tories to Westminster. The sooner they are sent packing the better.
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Feature


Housing association loans privatised.


MORE THAN 38,000 loans to 1,000 British housing associations were privatised last week by being transferred from the state's books to Nat West Markets and converted into securitised bonds.

Nat West Markets has recruited a number of finance bodies -pension funds, life assurance companies and so on -- to buy the bonds under the private finance initiative.

The bonds have an average maturity of 28.6 years and will be backed up ("collateralised") by future repayments on the loans. And the financiers have demanded safeguards in case the housing associations pay off their debts too quickly -- before the agreed maturity date -- and thereby deprive them of expected interest on the loans.

"This is the largest securitisation of public assets so far," said one London banker. "The next big securitisation will probably be the government's student loan portfolio."

The associations are public bodies set up to provide affordable public housing. They are funded partly through the rents paid to them and partly through government housing subsidy paid to tenants as housing benefits.

These sources of income will now have to go towards paying off the debts and interest to the financiers. Nat West has setup a holding company, Orchardbrook, to service the debt and which would operate as a charity - thus avoiding tax on the interest collected.

One way and another Nat West and the other financiers should do very well out of the deal.

But the tenants will barely be aware this has happened -- it has not been widely reported.

Since the Tory government put a ban on new council house building, most local authorities have encouraged housing associations to take over the role of providing affordable housing for people on low incomes.

The Labour leadership has accepted them because ostensibly they are not directly profit making bodies and it blurs the definition between housing association accommodation and council housing with the new all-encompassing term "social housing".

But Nat West and the other financiers cannot be described as non profit making. The bottom line is that housing associations -- however generous the intentions of their founders -- are a part of the private sector and if they do not respond to the demands of market forces -- by putting up rents -- and provide enough profits for those who have underwritten their debts, they will go bankrupt.

Then the tenants will be directly at the mercy of the official receiver and the bank. Either way, the bank wins -- it would not enter the deal otherwise.

And the danger is that an incoming Labour government will continue to support this arrangement and even extend it to selling off existing council stock to housing associations unless enough tenants make a big enough fuss and campaign to be council tenants with secure tenancies.
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International


Zaire rebels push forward


ZAIREAN revolutionary forces are advancing to Lubumbashi, the second largest city in the country and they have vowed to fight on until General Mobuto steps down. But back in the capital, Kinshasha, the ailing dictator has said he is now ready to share power with the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire.

General Mobuto looked frail and weak on his return to Zaire last week after two months cancer treatment in the south of France. Few doubt that his return has been prompted by his Western mentors anxious to reach a negotiated settlement with the rebel movement which is sweeping all before it.

But his call for talks, after a ceasefire, has been rejected by the rebels. Zairean revolutionary leader Laurent Kabila told cheering crowds in Kisangani that he will not quit fighting until General Mobuto is defeated.

Addressing thousands ata rally in the recently liberated city he said: "Do you want a ceasfire?". The crowd hissed and shouted: "No!" and chanted "Keep on going, keep on going,".

"There won't be a ceasefire before negotiations. That is it." Kabila replied.

The rebels are now just 200 km from Luburnbashi and advance units are heading towards the diamond-trading city of MbujiMayi.

The Zairean army has vanished and the collapse of the regime seems inevitable now.

One of the leaders of Mobuto's Popular Revolutionary Movement Banza Mukalayi, has called for talks with the rebel Alliance for the formation ofa transitional government in advance of democratic elections which is the major demand of the rebel movement.

But the Alliance is insisting thatMobuto first goes now and so far he's refused to consider it.

Over a thousand Western troops, from Belgium, France and the United States have sent to Brazzaville, the capital of the neighbouring Congolese Republic, allegedly to help evacuate their nationals from the Zairean capital, Kinshasha, which lies just across the Congo river.

France, Belgium and the United States are backing diplomatic efforts to get a ceasefire and they have backed calls for a transitional coalition government. But Kabila has warned that the Western build-up is nothing more than a neo-colonial attempt to intimidate the democratic forces, who now control a quarter of the central African country.

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British News


No to Essex fire service cuts!


by Steve Lawton

OVER 200 protesters marched to a rally in the forecourt of Southend Civic Centre last Saturday, to protest Essex County Council's &1.5 million spending-cuts plan which will close Rochford and Leigh fire stations.

Pipers alerted locals to the march as it wound its way from the pier entrance, up Pier Hill and through the busy high street, carrying a fire service "cuts coffin".

Labour Party candidate for Southend West Alan Hurley told the rally that Conscrvative spending cuts over the last 18 years "not only affect the fire service, they affect education, social services, health services -- all the essential services."

He said county councillors should "consider public safety", which he believed was "severely impaired by the effect of the Chief Fire Officers' report". It recommends the closure of Leigh and Rochford fire stations and the downgrading of Hadleigh fire station.

The fire chiefs report, he said, is based on "antiquated" Home Office guidelines. "For instance, it assumes that there will not be more than one fire incident in this town at any one time."

He said: "Lives will be lost when pumps that were previously at leigh and Rochford have to be replaced by already engaged fire attendances from Southend and Hadleigh."

What's more the report fails to understand Southend's particular circumstances -- the special risk for Southend Hospital, the possibility of a disaster at the airport, a high density of local schools and homes for the elderly.

Mike Fordham, assistant general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) told the rally: "It seems unbelievable to us that we are given leaflets by Essex County Council actually criticising firefighters for making attempts to oppose these cuts and to defend the standard of fuecover in Essex."

He went on: "There seems to be a total lack of understanding about what firefighters, and what our fire control members, do. We are there to save lives, that's our primary task But that's not the way Essex county council seem to view it."

If these cuts were implemented, the "experience and professionalism of firefighters" would be lost. Then they say,we shouldn't do anything about it, we ought to accept it."

But firefighters' clearly lay the blame with the Tory government for the past 18 years and the attitude they've taken on public services," he said "We've had 18 years of attacks on the fire service, 18 years of underfunding, 18 years of reductions of fire appliances, 18 years of redundancies, 18 years of more and more firefighters being killed."

He said it all stems from the government's view that public service is bad and the private sector is better.

He told protesters that the plans will lead to further deaths in Essex". Referring to the fire report, he said: "The standards being used are those of the 1930s, I think the attitude has gone back to the 1930s as well."

He said there is a national review of fire cover and he urged Essex County Council to await the outcome before making cuts.

He concluded: "Enough is enough -- let's make that known on 1 May."

Speaking to the New Worker, Alan Hurley said: "The Labour Party, and certainly its representatives in the Southend area, are determined to fight the effects of government spending cuts where we get essential as well as all other services that the public need."

But when questioned further said he felt it wasn't going to be possible to turn round the economy in 18 months -- money has got to be found from somewhere."

He went on: "But I think one of the priorities has got to be the restoration of public services. and that's education, health, and residential care."

Tory candidate David Amess and Liberal Democrat candidate Nina Stimson both said the issue was too important to become party political.

But that is clearly at odds with the highly party political attitude of the county council's LibDem leader Richard Boyd, who is already reported as opposing the firefighters decision to ballot for strike action against the closure threat.

He said: "The FBU ballot is way over the top and Essex firefighters ought to kill the strike stone dead." This backs threats from the council chief executive to dismiss strikers.

The Tories have left the firefighters no choice and a decision is expected on 11 April.

FBU representative Keith Handscomb has said: "We are balloting members because their own safety is at risk. Each of us has families and homes and we do not want to strike but we must." FBU regional secretary Steve Brinkley said: "We can strike for between two to 24 hours repeatedly for up to seven days."

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