The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 29th June 2001

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Workers of all countries, unite!

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Editorial - Crisis measures.
Lead Story - Unions unite against privatisation.
Feature - Byers to bulldoze tube sell-off?
International - Athens international Communist conference.
British News - "Dust down your marching shoes".


Crisis measures

THE Government is hell bent on letting private business get its claws stuck into the NHS and other public services. But because this is extremely unpopular it is doing all it can to reassure us that this does not amount to privatisation and the thin end of the wedge for our state welfare system.

 We are not fooled. Everyone knows that big business does not invest money in anything without expecting to make a fat profit. And that profit has to come from somewhere.

 These are the questions Blair must be made to answer: How will the private sector make money out of our cash-strapped health and education services? Where will the creamed-off profits come from? And if there is a way of making genuine profits from public services why doesn't the government invest so that those profits can be ploughed back into the public purse?

 There are only a limited number of possibilities: The profit could come from cost-cutting schemes including job losses, cuts in staff wages and conditions, cuts in training and by providing cheaper, and therefore, poorer services.

 It could, as with Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes, come from trusts and authorities paying rents to the private investors without ever having the possibility of owning the assets. Or it could come, as is the case with the railway industry, from government subsidies to the new private management bodies, that is, we pay the fat cats directly. And it could also come from a mix-and-match of all of these scams.

 In state education there is the extra danger that the involvement of private business could open the door to commercial interests trying to influence what is taught and a growth in the unseemly practice of advertising company brand names and logos on school equipment.

 Where a sizeable private sector already exists, as is the case with health care provision, the further involvement of private interests into the NHS itself will strengthen the private sector as a whole and encourage the trend towards a two-tier service.

 In all public sector privatisation schemes, whether by PFI, full privatisation or some public/private/partnership (PPP) deal, there would inevitably be a loss of democratic accountability and control -- government regulation is only as good as the inspection system involved. And as we know from health and safety problems in industry and agriculture, the inspection services are usually grossly underfunded and understaffed.

 Blair argues that private funding can provide the large scale capital investment the public sector needs and that the involvement of private money is the way to bring our services up to a good standard.

 And yet only the other week we were told that Britain is going to upgrade its fleet with a spanking new, and much larger, aircraft carrier, complete with the latest United States-built warplanes, at an astronomical cost. There was no talk then of the country not being able to afford it.

 Furthermore, since big business has so much money available for investment it means the rich could easily afford to pay higher direct taxes which would enable the government to fund public services without handing over public assets or public control. And this is exactly what the government should do.

 But it ignores this path because privatisation is also driven by the desperate clamour for safe and lucrative places for the wealthy to invest their capital. This search for new investment opportunities is going on throughout the capitalist world and is the driving force behind the International Monetary Fund's bullying of debtor countries to open up to wholesale privatisation.

 And the desperation to invest in the relatively safe area of supplying basic human needs is in turn made more frantic by the crisis of the capitalist system. One feature of this -- the crisis of overproduction -- means there are too many goods being produced for the markets to absorb -- the majority of the world's people, though they need the goods just cannot afford to buy them.

 Even after millions have been encouraged to spend more through credit schemes, the crisis goes on. Now we are being forced to help the wealthy minority stay on top by paying them directly out of our taxes and by the theft of our hard-won assets.

 The battle has to be waged against privatisation and it has to be fought now. Already a number of Labour MPs have spoken out and the trade unions are taking up the cudgels. But we can't sit back and leave it to others, we must all speak out, protest and unite to defend what is ours!

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Lead Story

Unions unite against privatisation

by Daphne Liddle

PRIME Minister Tony Blair last Wednesday invited the leaders of three of Britain's largest trade unions to Downing Street to try to reassure them that his radical "reforms" of public services like health and education, with a far greater involvement from the private sector, do not amount to privatisation.

 But Bill Morris of the Transport and General Workers Union, John Edmonds of the GMB general union and Dave Prentis of the public sector union Unison were not fooled.

 The growing strength of opposition to the "reforms" from the trade unions and from within the Labour Party has alarmed the Government which is now mounting a big spin operation to pretend it is not selling out to the worst elements of avaricious capitalism.

 The Government has not been helped by the publication on Monday of a report from one of its own think-tanks - The Institute for Public Policy Research - which supports pnvate sector involvement in principle but made serious criticism of many ofthe existing Private Finance Initiative schemes (PFIs) that Labour has agreed since 1997.

 The report added that PFIs could not necessarily be expected to work in other fields such as the building of private prisons and road building.

 It also questioned proposals for Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) for services like the London Underground and National Air Traffic Systems and said there are "significant problems in the plans.

 It said: "in some instances there are arguments in favour of transferring the ownership of public enterprise to a not-for-profit trust, particularly where there is a natural monopoly and where safety is a key feature.

 "Such a trust should still be able to raise private capital and contract for private management."

TUC general secretary John Monks welcomed this report and said it was "a triumph for those of us who have been sticking up for public services for many years".

 The problem with this approach is that it implies that the faults are in the technicalities of the contracts and the accounting and that with a bit of tweaking the whole thing could be made to work for the benefit of he public, the workers and the shareholders.

 That cannot happen. The private sector will always put the need for profit above every other consideration and this must in the end lead to cuts in services and jobs. There is no other way to increase profits.

 Another union leader adopting a similar position is Mark Serwotka, general secretary elect of the giant PCS civil service union.

 He welcomed the IPPR report, saying: "The private profit incentive is not a magical answer to current problems. When public servants are backed by proper resources and given flexibility to do the job, they have a proven track record of providing high-quality, innovative and responsive services.

 "We share the deep concern that policy in this area is now being driven by dogma rather than pragmatism. The Government claims that "public bad, private good" is no longer the guiding principle of policy in this area.

 "But this claim seems to be getting harder to sustain by the day. The IPPR report highlights the need for a long, cool, objective look at the evidence.

 "So concerned has my union become that we are now considering launching a major campaign, in conjunction with other unions, to defend public services against what we feel are constant attempts to undermine them."

 Stronger feelings against creeping privatisation were expressed at the Unison annual conference this week when delegates voted in favour of a motion which protested at the union continuing to fund a "party attacking our jobs, wages and conditions".

 Unison officials were quick to point out that this vote would not lead to it cutting its £1 million-plus funding for the Labour Party but said it represented "a shot across the Government's bows" on the issue of creeping privatisation.

 The danger is that the current Labour leadership would welcome such a cut and a breaking of the party's organisational links with the unions. Blair would be happy to seek alternative funding from big business, leaving the labour movement fractured.

 Unison has from the beginning staunchly opposed privatisation in any form -- so many of its members work in services liable to be privatised with the threat to their jobs, wages and conditions that represents.

 The Government has tried to assuage the union and last week Chancellor Gordon Brown agreed two pilot schemes that would protect the terms and conditions of ancillary workers within the NHS if their jobs are transferred to the private sector under PFI schemes.

 This deal would apply to new and existing PFI schemes and would have a major impact if extended to all 29 current NHS PFI schemes.

 Labour veteran Roy Hattersley joined the battle last week with a savage attack on his party's leadership and called for a "counter-coup" by members to restore Labour's principles.

 He said he could understand why some members might consider resigning but that he would stay and fight for change from within the party.

 He said that Blair is "openly contemptuous of ideology" and that the mantra of "pursuing social justice" was a "vacuous platitude".

 "One by one the policies which define our philosophy have been rejected by the Prime Minister." he wrote in last Sunday's Observer. "The Prime Ministers adoption of what is essentially a free-for-all philosophy presents party members with a desperate choice.

 "We could resign or we could sulk in our tents. Or, believing that the party does not belong to Tony Blair, we could rise up against the coup detat which overthrew the legitimate philosophy."

 Comrades take heart, Blair is not having things all his own way by any means. All the more reason to get stuck into the battle.

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Byers to bulldoze tube sell-off?

by Caroline Colebrook

NEW TRANSPORT Secretary Stephen Byers may intervene in the public/private-partnership negotiations for the partial sell-off of the London Underground network between London transport commissioner Rob Kiley and the consortia of companies bidding for the contracts.

 The Government handed control of the negotiations to Rob Kiley in the run-up to the recent general election to end a long running dispute which would have embarrassed the Government.

 The people of London are opposed to the PPP sell-off after seeing what pivatisation has done for the railways. This is how Ken Livingstone won the election for London Mayor in the face of Labour leadership opposition. It was he who appointed Rob Kiley as transport

 Both Livingstone and Kiley favour funding the much needed renewal of London Underground's infrastructure through the sale of bonds which would leave the Tube as a single body and in public ownership.

 The Tube workers' unions, the RMT and Aslef, are also firmly set against the PPP because it will compromise safety and cost jobs.

 They have been backed up by a report from the Health and Safety Executive published early this year with over 100 concerns for safety in the proposed PPP contracts. Most of the concerns are around lack of clarity as to who is responsible for what when the Tube is divided into separate bodies, especially in time of accident or emergency.

 Ken Livingstone has mounted a legal challenge to the sell-off on safety grounds on the basis of the HSE report.

 Both unions have staged strikes over concerns for their members' jobs and safety. Two strikes scheduled for the week of the general election were called off after the Government agreed the contracts would not include any redundancies.

 The consortia involved were not happy with this, nor with Bob Kiley being in charge of the negotiations. He has insisted that he should have day to day control over safety and maintenance issues.

 Now the election is out of the way, it seems the Government is ready to push him out of the way to appease the capitalists.

 An aide for Bob Kiley said: "We think that is just posturing by the Government. There was absolutely no indication of that when Mr Kiley met Mr Dyers. But Mr Kiley did lay it on the line and told him the negotiations were not gong well.

 "Mr Byers did indicate at that point that they might impose PPP regardless."

 "We do not know of any deadline -- that is whistling in the wind. Certainly we would expect the Government to start upping the ante now to see if we back away from the legal challenge."

 A spokesperson for Mr Byers said: "There is not a deadline. Obviously we do not want to see negotiations go on forever. Londoners are losing out on funding. We need to get this resolved because we want the money to start coming in."

 But the two sides in the negotiations seem miles apart. Earlier this month Paris Moeyedi, chief executive of rail infrastructure group Jarvis which is part of the Tublines consortium said: "There is a massive gulf between us to be bridged. "No financier will back a PPP where the contracting party subjects all its rights to the recipient of the service."

 He said there was little chance of contracts being signed by the autumn deadline and said the beginning of next year looked "more realistic".

  The whole sell-off is just part of a global trend, pressure from international finance capital, to open up every aspect of public life and public service provision, to private exploitation for profit.

  The views of the people receiving the service and of the workers delivering it are seen as irrelevant and democracy and consultation is a hindrance to trade and the capitalist right to exploit anything and everything.

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Athens international Communist conference

by Our Athens correspondent

COMMUNISTS from all over the world met in Greece last weekend to discuss the problems and challenges in the trade union movement.

 NCP leader Andy Brooks and Richard Bos from the Central Committee represented the Party at the International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties that was held in Athens on 22-24 June on the topic "Communists and the labour and trade union movement".

 For some years now, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) has hosted international communist meetings which have become important forums for discussion within the world movement.

 The KKE has a small presence in the Greek parliament -- the rest of the seats held entirely by the ruling social-democratic PASOK party and the conservative New Democracy -- and the party plays a major role in the Greek union movement.

 All told 49 parties took part in the discussions. Three ruling parties, the Workers Party of Korea and the communist parties of Cuba and Vietnam, sent delegations to Athens. The two major communist parties of Spain and Italy, the communist parties of Norway and Denmark, the Workers Party of Belgium and AKEL from Cyprus were there.

 Many parties from the former socialist countries of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union attended along with the two major Indian communist parties, parties from the Middle East and comrades from the Americas including the communist parties of Brazil and Colombia and the FARC-EP revolutionary movement.

 During the three-day meeting there was a high level of discussion. Everyone acknowledged that these meetings were both useful and necessary.

 Quite a few speakers mentioned the need for such meetings to continue to be convened and with greater frequency, as they show that despite the difficult conditions prevailing both internationally and locally, communist and workers' parties continue to act, meet and exchange their experience, constituting a significant force throughout the globe.

 Many speakers talked about the growing opposition to capitalism and imperialism throughout the world.

 Organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the IMF and the World Bank as well as the EU summit meetings, like the latest one in Gothenburg, have become the focus for huge protest demonstrations and rallies.

 Others referred to the preparations for the protest demonstrations against the G8 meeting in Genoa in Italy and the EU summit in Brussels in December.

 These mass protests ran in tandem with the struggle going on in the developing world against the huge foreign debt and the anti-people, predatory policies imposed by the lenders, particularly the IMF and the World Bank.

 These developments objectively bring many of these protest movements very close to those countries also challenging global capitalism with their demands for a radical change in the distribution of the world's wealth, which is concentrated in ever fewer countries and hands.

 Many representatives stressed the important role of unions and mass organisations in the struggle against imperialism and exploitation and the need for socialism, the only alternative to increasing exploitation and oppression of working people.

 It was noted in general that resistance was growing all over the world -- against imperialist aggression and the global offensive against working people's rights.

 Comrades talked about the reality of the "globalised" imperialist world -- the spread of deadly diseases that decimate entire populations, increasing unemployment and the so-called flexible forms of employment, class and national repression. Protests were being dealt with through increasing police brutality as witnessed by the numerous arrests and the violence of the Swedish police in Gothenburg who opened fire on unarmed protesters leaving one badly wounded.

 Quite a few speakers talked about the new opportunities opened up by these demonstrations for the class forces in the labour and the trade union movement and underscored the need for a yet more active and co-ordinated participation of Communists in these protests.

 Comrades looked back at the world-wide movement against Nato's war against Yugoslavia in 1999. In some countries, especially Greece, it took the form of a mass movement against the war.

 The need to develop even further communist coordination and action in the labour and trade union movement to combat imperialist interventions was also highlighted.

 Top of the agenda was the struggle against the American "National Missile Defence Shield" plan, which will trigger a new uncontrollable arms race if it is not stopped in its tracks.

 Communists, many of them leading trade unionists, stressed the need to co-ordinate the struggle of the trade union movement internationally -- in corporations with plants in many diffeerent countries and amongst workers in different companies or different countries facing a common threat from reactionary legislation or an overall employer offensive.

 Many also spoke of the particularly difficult conditions prevailing in a number of countries especially in the former socialist ones -- where there are bans on political activity in public enterprises and organisations as well as other proscriptions, persecution and discrimination against Communist parties, communists and generally all who resist capitalist barbarity and imperialist intervention.

 Special mention was made of the just struggle of the Palestinian people in the face of the aggressiveness and barbarity of the Israeli government in its fight for its own independent state with Arab East Jerusalem its capital, for the return of all refugees and for the withdrawal of the Israelis from all Arab territory occupied since 1967.

 The need to strengthen solidarity with and support for the Palestinian and Cypriot people was underscored.

 During the meeting a moment of silence was observed in memory of the heroic resistance of the Soviet Union to the Nazi invaders during the Second World War.

 A large number of ideas and proposals were put forward by many speakers on issues facing the class today. Many felt that May Day 2002 should be a focus for workers' demands for social justice and peace. Others argued that the communists should themselves play a major role in next year's May Day events.

 The New Communist Party contribution focused on the Party's stand toward the unions and the Labour Party. NCP General Secretary Andy Brooks was interviewed by the Greek communist media, and the delegation had a bilateral meeting with the Greek Communist Party and general exchanges of views with many other delegations.

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British News

"Dust down your marching shoes"

by New Worker correspondents

ONE HUNDRED delegates representing 85 local trades councils and county associations attended the 76th annual Trade Union Councils' Conference in London last weekend.

 The conference was opened by Transport and General Workers' Union general secretary Bill Morris, who is also president of the TUC who urged delegates: "Dust down your marching shoes as the autumn dawns" in preparation for battles "to defend public services".

 He welcomed Labour government reforms such as the statutory four weeks paid holiday but stressed that "only the first steps have been made".

 Unfinished business includes the repeal of the anti-union laws. Bill Morris said it is a scandal that workers in small companies are excluded from many legal rights.

 Labour's reforms of the union laws have made union recognition easier, but in many cases these reforms have led to employers launching legal challenges.

 Mick Rix, general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef told the conference that the strike ballot on London Underground had been challenged because the union had not informed management of its membership list which underlined this point.

 In Wigan, members of the public sector union Unison who voted for strike action were deemed to be in breach of the law as a few extra ballot papers were issued.

 Speaking about the rail industry Mick Rix highlighted the lax safety standards that have resulted from privatisation. Now that sub-contracting firms who have no information of the railways do maintenance work, it is not unknown for safety certificates to be sold in pubs for the price ofa pint.

 He contrasted the £60,000 needed to relocate the signal that caused the Ladbrooke Grove train disaster with the £1.4 million awarded to Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett for managing failure.

 The conference was not just for general secretaries -- the voice from the shop floor was much in evidence.

 The problems of organising trade unions at a local level was debated, with delegates being urged to recruit student union delegates to trades councils.

 Relations between the regional officers of the TUC and county associations were critically discussed.

 Delegates supported the renationalisation of Railtrack and pledged to campaign for keeping London Underground in the public sector. Defence of the public is not confined to the transport industry.

 Delegates were warned that the General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gats) posed a grave threat to education and the health services.

 The 1994 treaty is a serious threat to democracy as it forces elected governments to bow to multinational business corporations.

 Lest anyone imagines that we are living in a "classless society", delegates had a number of horror stories to share. Shirley Winters, a veteran of the Magnet strike, said some employers in Durham are not merely timing how long workers spent in the toilet but actually videoing them.

 Unfortunately delegates passed a rather vague motion calling for "either a Keynesian, bold socialist or Marxist economic policy". Presumably the TUC will make its own choice from these offers.

 The siting of mobile phone masts might not be seen as one of the most pressing trade union problems, but delegates had an informed discussion which resulted in conference opposing the siting of these masts in schools until further research concerning the health risks had been done.

 Tariq Aziq of Oldham United against Racism described recent events in Oldham and said that Asian people were unjustly attacked by police for resisting fascist activity. He stated that the labour movement is the only force that can defeat fascism.

 The local police chief is out of touch with the community and the local evening paper regularly features news from the British National Party but does not publish letters from anti-racists. The problems were caused by a lack of jobs and decent housing.

 The shock of the high vote for the BNP in Oldham led to an emergency motion on racism. The Oldham delegate pointed out that the area worst affected had received sums of regeneration money that had been squandered on prestigious projects.

 Another delegate praised the example of Phil Piratin, the Communist MP, who resisted the British Union of Fascists in the East End of London in the 1930s by building tenants' associations.

 The conference finished on an optimistic note with the adoption of the plan of work for the next year. Delegates returned home to prepare for the forthcoming industrial struggles. A third of the delegates to the conference bought a copy of the New Worker.

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