The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 29th August, 1997

Workers of all countries, unite!

Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition

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Editorial - Short change. & Victor's law.
Lead Story - Decommissioning must mean British guns too.
Feature - Repeal the racist asylum laws.
International - East German leaders jailed.
British News - Magnet strike a year old.


Short change.

THE unseemly display of public haggling from government minister Claire Short over the amount of financial aid Britain should give to help the people of Montserrat is shameful.

For one of the world's richest countries to meanly argue over aid to a small, developing country afflicted by a major natural disaster, is bad enough. But when that rich country has been the colonial oppressor it is dishonourable and shabby.

The people of Montserrat did not in the first place choose of their own free will to live on a geologically unstable volcanic island. Most are there because their ancestors were forced onto the island as slaves to work on the cotton and sugar plantations.

The hard labour of generations of Montserratians made profits aplenty for the wealthy landowners and traders who exploited them.

The British capitalist class grew fat on the hideous slave trade, the suffering of plantation workers across the British Empire and, in recent years, abundant cheap labour and raw materials from its former colonies around the world.

The volcanic eruptions on the island have devastated the capital, Plymouth, ruined vast tracts of agricultural land, displaced thousands of people, shattered the tourist industry and continue to pose a threat to the lives and safety of the remaining islanders.

There is a desperate need for shelter, medical care and services for the people who have sought the relative safety of the north of the island. And above all then is the need for financial resources to enable everyone who wants to leave to be able to start a new life either elsewhere in the Caribbean or in Britain.

Britain's offer of a payment, equivalent to six months wages, to those wanting to leave is an insult. It means, of course, six months wages at the local rates which are very low. To anyone coming to Britain this money wouldn't last five minutes.

Besides, why should British aid be linked to a local economy that is impoverished because of British imperialist exploitation of the region? It's saying "you are poor, because we've exploited you, so you're used to a low standard of living. This means you can manage on a tiny amount of money while you rebuild your whole life from scratch".

What a contrast this is with the humane response from other islands in the Caribbean who, with far less means than Britain, are doing all they can to help the people of Montserrat.

And what a contrast it is to the care free way the British government chucks billions into sustaining its nuclear arsenals.

But when representatives of the people of Montserrat ask for more help in their time of need all they get are insulting comments from a British Govemment Minister.

The government's response so far has been cold-hearted and mean and it shames our country. This has to be changed and the situation put right immediately.

Victor's law.

THE trial and imprisonment of former German Democratic Republic (GDR) leader Egon Krenz is a gross miscarriage of justice carried out by the German government.

This, and other similar trials, take no account of the principles of sovereignty enshrined in international law by the means of simply refusing to acknowledge that during the years of the Cold War the GDR was a legitimate, sovereign state and that its citizens were subject to the laws of the GDR and not those of West Germany.

Also ignored in all the condemnations of the Berlin Wall and its defence, is the role played by the West Germans and their Nato allies. It was, after all, the interventions, attempts at destabilisation, currency smuggling and so on, that made the building of the Wall necessary in the first place.

The trials of former GDR leaders and citizens are vengeful exercises which provide the unpopular German government with an opportunity to resurrect anti-communist propaganda from the Cold War period.

It helps the right wing govemment to attack the Left and to attempt to divert public attention away from the belt-tightening policies required by the conditions for European Monetary Union.

Krenz and all the victims of this anti-communist witchhunt should receive our full support and solidarity. We call for their immediate release from custody.

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Lead Story

Decommissioning must mean British guns too.

by Daphne Liddle

THE 15 SEPTEMBER, starting date for the peace talks on the fate of the occupied north of Ireland, is approaching. And it seems, that with an IRA cease-fire in place, Sinn Fein will at last be invited to sit down at the negotiating table.

If this happens the event will be noted in history as the beginning of the first ever real peace talks in the province and the only ones so far to have any chance of success in bringing real and lasting peace to the people there.

And it is a step that could never have been achieved with a Tory government in Westminster.

But the British government, in the run up to these negotiations, is behaving like a card sharp who puts on umpteen layers of clothing before sitting down to play strip poker -- while complaining that their opponent is wearing any clothes at all.

While continually talking about the IRA decommissioning its weapons, the British government is rapidly stockpiling its own. Last week saw a massive reinforcement of British Anny lookout posts along the border in South Armagh.

Instead of easing up on the level of weaponry in the hands of British soldiers after the IRA cease-fire, helicopters have been carrying diggers and concrete slabs to reinforce a base at Faughill Mountain, which overlooks the main Dublin to Belfast road.

Local Sinn Fein councillor Packy McDonald said: "I am calling on the British Minister for security in the Six Counties, Adam Ingram, to immediately cease all such work.

"It is at odds with the current atmosphere created by the IRA cessation and it isn't conducive with a climate in which to build a lasting peace.

"I am also calling for die complete demiltarisation of all border posts and the returning of British soldiers to their barracks pending their entire departure from our country."

The Ulster Unionist parties have, as expected, held up their hands in horror that there has been no decommissioning of arms by the IRA in advance of the talks and that the new procedure agreed by the British and Irish governments last week will not demand this.

As northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam admitted last Tuesday in a rare moment of frankness, decommissioning would be a ridiculous pre-condition to talks because it could not be enforced.

But in spite of their public posturing, the various Unionist leaders are divided among themselves and under considerable pressure from their own constituents not to let the chance for peace be thrown away a second time.

A representative of the Progressive Unionist Party last Wednesday told a BBC breakfast television news programme that it was wrong to expect guarantees of success before entering the talks -- or they would never begin -- and that an optimistic frame of mind is essential.

Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble is under pressure from members of his Upper Bann constituency association who voted unanimously to recommend that party's presence at the talks.

And Sinn Fein has recently been going out of its way to reassure the Loyalist communities that their rights, culture and traditions will be respected when the republicans achieve their goal of a united, fully independent Ireland.

So the talks seem set fair to start with all the main parties to the dispute at the negotiating table.

The only ones still refusing to sit down at the same table as Sinn Fein are Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists, who are looking increasingly small and isolated.

The start of the talks will be welcomed by all progressives in Ireland and Britain as a big step forward. But the talks are unlikely to be easy or smooth. There are many very difficult issues to be addressed and many vested interests who would like to see the fighting continue who will try to provoke a breakdown.

Trades unionists and other progressive political activists in Britain can help by stepping up the pressure for a complete withdrawal of Britain from Ireland and a full release of all prisoners of war held in British jails.

And, whenever the obstructionists raise the issue of decommissioning to try to sabotage the talks, we must remind them that it is the British government that holds most of the guns in the north of Ireland.

Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said last week: "It is self evident that peace requires the demilitarisation of our society. In every sense. Repressive legislation must end. The deployment of military and paramilitary forces must cease.

"The military fortifications must go and the building programmes of military fortifications across the Six Counties should end. Why are the British actively preparing for more conflict?

"The release of prisoners incarcerated as a result of the conflict must be part of this. The gun must be taken out of politics in Ireland."

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Repeal the racist asylum laws.

by Caroline Colebrook

JUST a year ago the Labour leadership, while in opposition, was promising that when it came to power it would prioritise repealing the Tories' racist 1996 immigration and Asylum Bill.

But it was not until last week, after a riot at the Campsfield detention centre brought the issue into the headlines, that the Labour government announced a "root and branch" review of the assessment of asylum-seekers.

Any changes to the law will have to wait until this review is complete and "root and branch" is another way of saying it will take a long time.

Immigration minister Mike O'Brien has admitted that the 52,000 backlog of cases awaiting assessment is "unacceptably high".

Many of these people have been waiting years for a decision.

Government statistics show that it is very difficult for an asylum-seeker to prove they are genuine and find refuge in Britain. In 1996 only five out of 3,710 applicants, who did get a decision, were granted full asylum and 15 received exceptional leave to stay.

The 1996 Immigration and Asylum Act says that refugees must apply for asylum as soon as they arrive in Britain -- otherwise they are not considered genuine.

Many do not know this. They arrive desperate and afraid. More often than not they do not speak English. So many decide to wait until they know what's what before asking for asylum.

Often those who have been the victims of torture are too traumatised to say anything much at all for some time.

The riot at Campsfield detention centre, run by the private security firm Group Four, involved 44 asylum-seekers and ended peacefully after 12 hours. One detainee was removed to prison.

A fire had been started in the library area, causing extensive damage. The protesters remained in the exercise yard throughout their action.

Afterwards 120 detainees were removed from the damaged camp by bus and transferred to Birmingham.

The Home Office is now investigating claims that the threat of transfer to maximum security prisons was used by Group Four staff to discipline alleged troublemakers.

And it is also examining detainees' claims that they have found it very difficult to see the Home Office inspector who is supposed to be looking after their welfare.

Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, whose constituency indudes the Campsfield centre, said: "These problems occur because Britain is detaining far too many people.

"The present situation -- detainees being removed to cells in Birmingham without notice, and hordes of bored and depressed detainees milling around without adequate access to help or advice -- is a recipe for disaster. Campsfield is a powder keg."

Aladair Mackenzie of Asylum Aid said: "The inmates don't know why they're there or how long they're there for, and that creates a tension that can lead to an explosion from time to time".

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East German leaders jailed.

FORMER East German leader Egon Krenz, and two other members of the former government of the German Democratic Republic, have heen convicted of manslaughter in a Berlin court. Krenz, who led the GDR in its last days, was sentenced to six-and-a-half years imprisonment, Gunter Schabowski, the former editor of the Socialist Unity Party's paper Neues Deutschland was jailed for three years together with politburo member Gunter Kleiber.

The three former communists were convicted of responsibility for the deaths of defectors shot while trying to flee to West Germany during the Cold War.

Schabowski and Kleiber played down their own roles in the GDR government and this accounted for their lighter sentences. Schabowski was jeered as a "rat" by old communists in the public gallery when he asked the relatives of the defectors who died for forgiveness. But there were cheers for Krenz's defiant stand in the dock.

"The victorious power is revenging itself on the representatives of the defeated power," he declared. And this was echoed in the shouts of support from the communists in the court as Krenz was led away to start his sentence.

Egon Krenz replaced Erich Honecker during the 1989 counter-revolutionary upsurge and he was forced to resign after just six weeks in office. He was subsequently expelled from the Socialist Unity Party in 1990.

The former GDR leader said from the begining that the purpose of the trial was simply to discredit the former East German government and its achievements. "The aim of the trial is to criminalise the GDR. The court has put the GDR on the same level as the Third Reich. That is an outrage in view of the crimes of the fascists and West Germany's own shortcomings in dealing with its fascist past". Krenz maintained that the prosecution of former GDR leaders and officials was a breach of a personal undertaking given by Chancellor Kohl to Mikhail Gorbachov during their talks which led to the West German takeover of East Germany. But his request to call both of them as witnesses was denied.

Krenz also expressed his regret at the deaths of defectors but he maintained that the GDR had no powers to "alter the frontier regime between two military blocs".

"Any change at the border carried with it the danger of war," he said and he insisted that on the question of border security the GDR had to defer to the wishes of the Soviet Union.

Though the deaths were the "most tragic" result of the Cold War, Krenz said he would not be ashamed to be found not guilty "so long as the verdicts on former border guards and my friends are not rescinded".

Since German re-unification there have been 150 trials in eastern Germany relating to the deaths of the 265 defectors killed on the border since 1946. Most cases have been dropped, but 46 border guards have been convicted in Berlin, though all bar two got suspended sentences.
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British News

Magnet strike a year old.

NEARLY 2,000 people gathered in Darlington last weekend to give support to the sackcd Magnet Kitchen workers and mark the first anniversary of the dispute that has seen them locked out of their workplace and on the picket line for 12 months.

It began in August 1996 when the workers rejected a pay deal that would have left nearly half of them with no pay rise at all.

When the 350-strong workforce walked out on strike, the company recruited unskilled scab labour.

On 3 September Magnet sacked the striking workers. This prompted 50 of them to quit the strike and go back in. The rest stayed solid.

In January the TUC called for a boycott of all Magnet products in solidarity.

But the Tory anti-trade union laws have prevented any serious solidarity action.

And earlier this month the company declared it had no intention of reinstating the sacked workers.

Ian Crammond, secretary of the strike committee, told last Saturday's rally they are calling on the Labour government to intervene and to repeal the anti union laws.

"We want the government to stop this shilly-shallying and force the company back to the negotiating table," he said.

And he pointed out that in no other European country could bosses get away with sacking workers for taking legitimate strike action.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, spoke at the rally in support of the Magnet workers demands.

So far the government has taken a hands-off approach, as though laws which allow bosses to break up unions and deprive workers of their livelihood had nothing to do with the government.

It will be interesting to see the response of union leaders like John Edmonds to this attitude at this year's TUC and Labour Party conferences.

The Labour leadership call no longer demand unity at any cost and on its own terms now it has such a big majority, from the unions which created that party and still pay its bills.

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