The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 29th October, 1999

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Editorial - It makes you sick!
Lead Story - House of Lords to go.
Feature - Pay gap still yawning.
International - Palestinian killed during Cook's tour.
British News - Women cleared as Trident base ruled illegal.

Editorial

It makes you sick!

IN the recent past, the rich and powerful agribusiness interests in France and Britain have both been guilty of boosting profits by bulking animal feed with disgusting things like other dead animals, sewage and slurry, In Britain this is believed to have led to the 1980's outbreak of mad cow disease and in France the practice was banned because it was feared it could cause diseases in humans.

 Now, these giant food producing interests are trying to exploit consumers' fears -- which their filthy practices caused in the first place -- to introduce a measure of trade protectionism. In the case of France this is backed by the French government and has taken the form of maintaining the ban on British beef despite the decision of the European Union to lift that ban.

 In Britain, the government is wary of crossing the line towards an Angle-French trade war. But the big food industry interests are nonetheless doing their best to'whip up an unofficial boycott of all things French -- along with a good measure of xenophobia.

 Underlying all of this is a fall in livestock prices and intensifying competition for market share.

 The desperate methods used to squeeze higher profits from animal production and the difficulties over trade are both problems arising from the capitalist crisis of over-production and the indifference of capitalist enterprise to anything other than profit making. People's health, animal welfare, a safe environment and food quality are seen as losses on the balance sheet and are only attended to in accordance with government regulation.

 There is nothing new in all of this. Regulations on food safety had to be introduced to stop the "enterprising" business people of yesteryear from bulking up bread and other foodstuffs with various inedible and harmful fillers ranging from chalk to arsenic.

 It's interesting to note that while apologists for capitalism claim the system of market forces and competition tends towards lowering prices, this doesn't seem to have happened at all where food is concerned. Small-scale kill farmers and consumers are clearly the losers in all of this.

 In recent weeks there have been public protests by small farmers complaining that sheep were only fetching about a quid each. But did consumers notice any change in the shops? No, nothing at all -- a leg of lamb is still too dear for most families to buy and just a couple of chops still costs the shopper more than the farmer gets for the whole carcass.

 It shows that the tendency under capitalism towards monopolisation and the creation of giant firms capable of dominating the market-place leads to less, not more, consumer choice.

 Food products, which everyone has to buy in order to live, remain high priced regardless oflow prices at the farm gate. Of course if farm gate prices were to suddenly rise we can be certain the shopper would notice the change to higher shop prices very quickly.

 Workers in agriculture, food processing and retailing are also on the sharp end of this crisis. Farm workers' wages are among the lowest in the country and the working conditions of casual farm workers employed by sub-contractors are notoriously dismal.

 Similarly, while the profits of the giant supermarkets continue to rise, the wages and conditions of those stuck behind the tills hour upon hour remain poor.

 There is no doubt that people should be angry. But the enemy is not the French people or even the French farmers -- it is the powerful barons of the giant agribusinesses, in Britain, the rest of Europe and the United States, and above all the capitalist system itself -- it is capitalism that needs to be banned!

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Lead Story

House of Lords to go


By Daphne Liddle

THE HOUSE of Lords on Tuesday night voted to abolish the right of hereditary peers to have a say in the government of this country purely on the basis of who their parents were.

 The Bill will remove most of the 750 hereditary peers from the House of Lords. It will have to pass through the Commons before it becomes law early next month, before the Queen's Speech.

 The Bill was supported by 221 votes to 81. Most of the hereditary peers had not even turned up.

 The Earl of Burford made a last minute dramatic gesture to oppose the Bill.

 "This Bill, drafted in Brussels, is treason," he said, leaping up on the chamber's woolsack.

 "What we are witnessing is the abolition of Britain. Stand up for your Queen and country and vote this Bill down."

 He is the son of the Duke of St Albans and his right to be part of Britain's government is based on the fact that the first Duke of St Albans was the son of King Charles the Second and Nell Gwynne.

 But the Bill passed easily as the Tory majority in the Lords agreed to abstain, in return for government agreement to keep just 92 hereditary peers in place while further plans for reform of the second chamber are formulated.

 The Tories had complained that a House of only life-peers would quickly become a chamber of Tony Blair's appointed cronies.

 The change may have been prompted in Brussels but it has been long overdue nevertheless.

 It does not go nearly far enough. It still leaves us with a second chamber that is not elected.

It is full of life peers -- mainly retired politicians who have pleased the prime minister of their day -- high court judges, bishops and so on.

 This is still a brake on the democratic processes in this country.

 There is no need or a second chamber at all.

 And it still leaves the biggest anachronism of all-- the monarchy -- as yet untouched.

 Some of the peers are aware that this is now on the agenda. During the debate last Tuesday Lord Wedgewood said: "We are faced with the principle of a shameful and disastrous end game if this Bill is enacted.

 "How long will it be until the Queen is scuttled out of Buckingham Palace."

dispassionate

 Some of the Lords try to claim that they can take a dispassionate view of Britain's affairs because they do not have to kowtow to political parties or the electorate.

 In itself this is a very arrogant insult to the electorate. But if there were any doubts about the Bill they are shattered by some of the remarks made by the lords who were given the opportunity to state why they thought they should be among the 92 to remain in just 75 words. Viscount Mountgarret said: "I do not have to curry favour with constituents". Just a few weeks ago an industrial tribunal ordered him to pay £20,000 compensation to a gamekeeper who had suffered eight years of Mountgarret's "unpredictable, irrational and intolerable rages".

 The Duke of Montrose claimed: "My family has a long history of service to our monarchy and the Union of Great Britain."

 Yet his father was a minister in the illegal government of Ian Smith in Rhodesia which dedared unilateral independence rather than agree to black majority rule. He could not attend his son's wedding for fear of being charged with treason if he came to Britain.

 Another claimed the right to rule because he wanted to keep an eye on all measures affecting the prayer book; another because she brought flowers.

 Labour leader in the Lords Baroness Jay told the chamber the time had come to say "thank you and goodbye to the hereditaries".

 She added: "The Bill is a central part of this government's programme to modernise the British constitution.

 "It is the start of a process to reform the second chamber of Parliament to make it fit to serve the whole country in the 21st century."

 The change will help smooth the way for Britain into the developing European super-state and in doing so will serve British business interests.

 It will do little or nothing for the working class. The EU is not democratic. It is run by appointed commissioners.

 If we want true democracy for the working class that can only come with socialism.

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Feature

Pay gap still yawning

by Caroline Colebrook

NEARLY 30 years after the passing of the Equal Pay Act, women in Britain are still on average paid 20 per cent less than men, according to a report released last Monday by the Equal Opportunities Commission.

 "There is a worryingly low level of awareness of the pay gap," said the commission.

 "Most people do not know what their colleagues earn and rarely ask, yet unless they ask, they can't be sure they're not being discriminate against."

 An Equal Pay Task Force is to be set up, chaired by Bob Mason, the human resources director of British Telecom.

 It will involve representatives from the public and private secton, the Civil Service and the trade unions.

 The Equal Opportunities report, Men and Women in Britain Pay and Income, says that 69 per cent of young people aged 17 to 24 and about to enter the workforce, believe the pay gap is unfair.

 The majority of young women said they would prefer to work for an employer committed to equal pay.

 The EOC is calling on employers to audit their payrolls to make sure that men and women are being paid equally.

 But employers' organisations complain that this would involve too much red tape.

 The pay gap is biggest in London and the south-east of England but wage levels are generally highest here too.

 Women in the south east earn an average £422.80 a week while men earn £584.40.

 The powers that would be given to this task force seem limited to recommending best practice. The surestway to ensure thatthe dosing of the pay gap is put back on track is to unshackle the trade unions.

 There have been many struggles by women in low paid jobs: Hillingdon, Burnsall and so on which have been hampered by the anti-trade union laws which forbid solidarity action.

 Meanwhile Employment and Education Secretary David Blunket is offering money for retraining to mothers who take time off from their careers to bring up children.

 The EOC report does highlight that one of the biggest factors in low pay for women is that when they return to work after having a family, they are usually at a much lower level than men of the same age and qualifications.

 Blunkett is offering education credits worth up to £150 for women to bring their skills up to date.

 This will fund only the most minimal of refresher courses.

 Mothers are to be offered short courses which they can complete at home on the internet or through the new University for Industry.

 But millions of young mothers who are hard up and bringing up a young family do not have the necessary access to the internet or up to date computers in their homes to take advantage of this.

 The Department for Education and Employment is also planning to offer new guidance for careers officers, making it clear they should not direct girls towards traditionally female jobs such as hairdressing.

 But they can hardly pretend this is new. If the last 30 years has proved anything, it is that legislation alone cannot bring equal pay.

 The ruling class benefits from a divided working class and from being able to treat half that class as cheap labour because they are women.

 The ruling class is never going to do more than make gestures towards equal pay. The real battie can only be won by the working class itself, through united trade union action.

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International

Palestinian killed during Cook's tour

by Our Middle East Affairs correspondent

ONE PALESTINIAN has been killed and others injured during bloody clashes with Israeli troops in Bethlehem during the week which Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had hoped would herald a new beginning for the
"peace process".

 But Cook, whose talks with Yasser Arafat and the Israeli leadership were aimed at strengthening British ties with Israel's Labour government and Arafat's Palestinian Authority, found his tour overshadowed by the tension caused by Israel's brutal occupation.

 On Monday the opening ofthe corridor between Gaza and the West Bank temporarily did seem to give hope that a new page was being turned in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Hundreds of Palestinians had queued up in Gaza to make the trip across Israel to the West Bank. Many more will follow both ways.

 But the mood soon turned sour. That day a Palestinian was shot dead at "Rachel's Tomb" in Bethlehem and a few kilometres to the north an Arab house was being bulldozed, because, the Israelis claim, it was built without a licence from the occupiers.

 Mousa Abu Hilail, a 28-yearold souvenir seller, was shot dead by Israeli troops, when, they say, he attempted to stab a soldier in Bethlehem. The trouble erupted at the Israeli check-point at "Rachel's Tomb", which Palestinians have to go through to travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.

 Palestinian youths took to the streets with rocks and bottles to confront the Israelis, who opened up with rubber-coated bullets and tear-gas. Fifteen Palestinians and two Israelis were injured in Monday's clashes.

 Sarah al-Tamari, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council from Bethlehem, blamed the Israelis for the violence and accused them of deliberately shooting the young Palestinian dead.

 Cook had to cancel his trip to Bethlehem and his visit to occupied Arab Jerusalem was further marred when Israeli police arrested the two Palestinian guards detailed to provide security for a meeting with a senior Palestinian official in the city.

 Though the lunch engagement with Feisal Husseini in an East Jerusalem hotel went ahead the row outside was a considerable embarassment. When Cook and his guards got to the American Colony Hotel an Israeli policeman tried to join him but was asked to stay outside.

 Israeli police rapidly descended on the hotel demanding that the two Arab guards give themselves up -- which they did after a 50 minute stand-off. They were then charged with attacking the Israeli policeman ordered out of the building.

 "The Israelis were trying to humiliate not just us but the whole British delegation," Feisal Husseini said afterwards.

 Just another day in occupied Palestine. And if Israeli premier Ehud Barak thinks that opening a land-corridor is enough to assuage Palestinian anger he is much mistaken. In fact the Israeli leader gave no indication of any new thinking during Cook's tour.

 But reports that the United States is planning to purchase the occupied Golan Heights from Israel in order to hand it over to Syria shows that Washington and Tel Aviv may be at last willing to normalise relations with Syria and Lebanon.

 The report, in the London based Arab paper Al-Zamun, states that the United States has offered $20 billion to buy the occupied Golan Heights from Israel -- leaked they say by a supporter of the hard-line Likud bloc in the Israeli embassy to try and mobilise American Zionist opinion against the offer.

 The money would go to compensate Israel for the return of the Heights and would be earmarked for further arms purchases from the United States.

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British News

Women cleared as Trident base ruled illegal

THREE peace activists were declared not guilty last week of causing E80,000 worth of damage at a Trident nuclear submarine base after Sheriff Margaret Gimblett ordered a jury to acquit them because the weapons programme is iilegal under international law and so they had committed no crime.

 The sheriff ruled that the women had a right to try to disarm the base at Faslane in Argyll.

 There were cheers from supporters as Angela Zelter of Cromer in Norfolk, Ellen Moxley of Dollar, Clackmannanshire and Bodil Ulla Roder from Denmark walked free from the court in Greenock after a 17-day trial.

 The defence had cited a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 1996 which declared the use or threat of nuclear weapons illegal.

 Tory critics were furious at the ruling and demanded that the sheriff be sacked. Scottish Tory home affairs spokesperson Phil Gallie warned that the ruling would send all the wrong signals to "pacifist loonies".

 Sheriff Gimblett said: "The three took the view that, it was illegal and given the horrendous nature of nuclear weapons, they had an obligation in terms of international law to do whatever they could to stop the deployment and use of nuclear weapons in situations construed as a threat.

 "I have heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with criminal intent" she concluded.

 The three were accused of boarding the Maytime floating laboratory armed with saws, glass cutters and drills. They alleged ly damaged equipment including fax machines, telephones and tools and throwing documents overboard.

 They were also accused of damaging windows, cutting a hole in a fence, destroying electrical cables and disabling a crane by pouring glue over its controls.

 They are members of the anti-nuclear group Trident Ploughshares 2000.

 * A Minister in the Scottish Executive has admitted publicly to being in favour of scrapping Trident.

 After the ruling by Sheriff Gimblett, the opposition Scottish National Party asked if ministerial collective responsibility in Scotland applied to reserved as well as devolved areas.

 Ms Jackie Baillie, deputy Minister for Communities had already replied to a CND questionnaire posted on the internet before the Scottish Parliament elections, saying she supported the scrapping of Trident.

 This led the SNP to accuse the Labour administration of being split on the matter.

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