The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 29th September 2000

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Editorial - Blair shaken not stirred.
Lead Story - A device to bewilder.
Feature - Low income families face eviction.
International - Eye of the storm in Prague.
British News - Brighton S24 counter-conference.

Editorial

Blair shaken not stirred.

THE last few weeks have been bitter pills for the Labour government to swallow. The petrol protests were bad enough. Labour's slump in the opinion polls and the row over pensions at Labour Party conference Were much worse.

 A few months ago Labour was light-years ahead of the Tories in the polls and Tony Blair thought he could walk on water. Now Blair says he's the listening man. Well he's going to have to listen some more if he thinks tossing a few crumbs to pensioners and vague promises of future public investment in education and the health service will restore Labour's credibility with working people.

 Tony Blair's sweet words cannot dismiss the demand for the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings. Neither does Chancellor Brown's claim that the country cannot afford to return to Labour's state welfare policies of the past. Their masters of spin tell us these were disastrous days of "tax and spend" economics.

 Well, there's nothing wrong with that. We want much higher income taxes for the rich, who've got plenty, and we certainly want more public money spent on state welfare, the health service and public transport in the future.

 Pensioners are entitled to a state pension that is equal to a third of average male earnings. They deserve affordable housing, free health care, free travel and free educational activities.

 Britain is awash with wealth. This country is the fourth richest country in the world. Shamefully, our state pensions are one of the lowest among the developed countries.

 Working people want a modem free health service and the modern education Blair constantly bleats about but does little to deliver in real terms for the class.

 A few months ago Labour's leaders imagined that Brighton conference would simply be a jamboree to rally the faithful for a general election next year. Now they are beginning to heed the grass-roots warning that Labour's core vote -- millions of workers throughout the country -- can no longer be taken for granted. But we will need more than this to change the direction of this Labour government.

 Blair acknowledged the new mood when he was forced to talk about a Labour second-term "more radical than the first" at Brighton. Needless to say he didn't spell out what he had in mind. What it will be depends on the pressure exerted by the rank-andfile within the party and throughout the labour movement as a whole.

 The divisions within the right-wing camp over Labour's future programme are becoming more open. Union leaders are backing demands for more socially orientated policies to restore what is still called the "Welfare State" in some quarters. Some want an increase in public expenditure, a final halt to privatisation and support for manufacturing industry. But all them see the future in the context of acceptance of European Monetary Union and the limits of the European super-state to come.

 It's opinion on the shop-floor, in the factories and offices and estates which count and here there is resistance. The great movement in London which propelled Ken Livingstone to the office of Mayor reflected it.

 Those on the ultra -left who dismiss the Labour Party as dead or just another bourgeois party cannot explain it. The simple fact is that Livingstone is a product of the Labour Party and his triumph was almost entirely due to the support of London's Labour party activists and supporters.

 Livingstone's victory and the defeat of Blair's placeman marks the beginning ofa new struggle within the movement. It's a fight to return to the traditional policies of the labour movement, welfare, social-democracy and social justice.

 It reflects the immense frustration of millions of working people who feel powerless in a society which tells us we live in a democracy which elevates individual and "human" rights.

 If we really did live in this sort of democracy then working people would be at the fore, in Government in Parliament and on the judges' benches. In fact few working people ever rise to the dizzy heights of bourgeois democracy, and then only through the gravy-train of tokenism, treachery and sell-out.

 We are "individuals" whose lives are dictated by the needs of the big corporations and banks. We have "human rights" which count fornothing against the needs of the ruling class who live on our backs.

 Only revolution can end the system of exploitation but the immediate demand of the class for the restoration of the Welfare State are winnable through the Labour Party.

 These demands can be won only if there is mass pressure from the labour movement itself. The fight for a working class united trade union movement is paramount. We need to defeat social-democracy in the labour movement and replace the time-servers, careerists and collaborators with working class leadership committed to the struggle for the advance of the class.

 We need militant working class leadership in the unions to lead the class in defiance of the labour laws, to restore collective bargaining and defend workers' rights. We need a militant workers' movement to expose isolate and defeat those who claim to lead it.

 Demands for progressive legislation, a fighting trade union movement and a class conscious labour movement go hand in hand with the fight to build the revolutionary party and its influence within the working class. We must encourage class consciousness and the socialist concept of human rights to counter the bourgeois concept, which only applies to themselves.

 This is what Blair's got to hear. Then let him listen. But he must act.

 Back to index



Lead Story

A device to bewilder

by Daphne Liddle

"GORDON doesn't like to give in so he's found a device for bewildering," Dame Barbara Castle said a the Labour Party conference in Brighton last Monday.

 She was speaking after Chancellor Gordon Brown had given his speech to the conference. He was trying to head off support for the pensioners' demand for the restoration of the link between the basic state pension and average male earnings by promising just about anything but that restoration.

 He pledged to raise the means tested minimum income guarantee for poor pensioners from £78 to £90. Already he had pledged to raise the winter fuel allowance from £100 to £150. The Labour leadership even admitted this year's increase of just 75 pence on the basic pension was a mistake.

 They would do anything except restore that link because their long-term aim remains the gradual withering and disappearance of the basic state pension. This will force us all to rely on private pensions and they are not reliable.

 This is the policy of the Tories that Labour is continuing because it is the policy of the capitalists who really run this country and who want us all to be forced to pay into private pension funds which they can use to speculate and make themselves vast profits.

 But the pensioners refused to be bewildered and stuck to their guns. So did the union leaders like John Edmonds of the general union GMB and Rodney Bickestaffe of the public sector union Unison. Their members future pensions are at stake and no amount of back-stage wrangling at the conference could budge them.

 And on Wednesday conference voted by 60 per cent to back the pensioners' demand - a resounding defeat for the Government and a set-back for capitalism on a key issue.

 As he moved the motion, Rodney Bickerstaffe said that "pensioners deserve better from the Government". And veteran campaigner Barbara Castle told the conference that Britain is wealthy enough to give dignity to its pensioners. She reminded delegates that if the link were restored, pension rises would happen when wages - and income tax revenue - also rose, so there would be no problem in the country affording it.

 The Government will not give way on restoring the link of course, just yet. Gordon Brown has promised to the World Bank there will be no pre-election sops in the form of more public spending -- even though his coffers have plenty in them. And hat is a pledge he really will try to keep.

 But the pressure on him is mounting. The pensioners have conducted an exemplary campaign, focusing on one simple demand until the whole nation, including the national newspapers, cannot ignore them.

 The newspapers, like the Express and the Mirror which have "taken up the pensioners' cause" are simply calling for higher pensions, trying to ignore and divert attention from the single clear demand. They are also part of capitalism's apparatus for bewildering -- but it is not working.

 The Government will need the support of the pensioners in the coming general election and that election will have to take place next year if capitalism's timetable for getting Britain into the European Single Currency is to be met. So there is every reason to keep up pressure on this issue.

  The Government had a rough ride on many other issues. It lost votes in the transport debate as delegates voted for the compulsory introduction of Automatic Train Protection -- rejected as too expensive by the train companies and the Government and for the directors of train companies guilty of negligence to be made liable for criminal prosecution after train crashes.

 London Mayor Ken Livingstone presented a report on the future of the London Underground at a fringe meeting, showing that the Government's plans forpartial privatisation will not only be a very bad deal for taxpayers, they will undermine the safety of passengers and Tube workers.

 Livingstone promised to take the Government to court if it goes ahead with the plans while the RMT transport union warned that its members will strike ratherthan accept plans which will compromise safety.

 The Government has suffered several rude shocks this year from the triumph of Ken Livingstone in the London Mayoral election to the recent fuel blockades in protest at rising taxes on petrol and Labour's dramatic fall in the opinion polls.

 It has lost some of its arrogance and the spin doctors have been very hard at work, presenting a new image of a more humble, listening government that really cares.

 They have decided their best card is to remind people of how awful things were under the Tories and what an awful prime minister William Hague would make.

 Speeches from Government minister have begun to reflect some of the old Labour values evoking the founding principles behind the NHS.

 Health Secretary Alan Milburn even quoted: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" -- a tenet of socialism.

 He listed nightmares that have been visited on us by Tory governments such as the NHS internal market, the run down in staffing and compulsory competitive tendering of NHS leaning and catering services which have led to dirty hospitals and rising levels of cross infection.

 He painted a wonderful picture. He claimed the internal market has now disappeared - it has not. Local health authorities and doctors are still bound by contract to certain hospital trusts and cannot send patients to whichever hospital will serve them best.

 He claimed thousands of new nurses and doctors, now under training to restore the NHS to its former glory. We shall have to wait and see.

 And he promised to get rid of CCT. It is a great promise but the new generation of hospitals being built to replace those that are still being closed will all be owned by the private sector under the Private Finance Initiative. It is the private owners who will decide upon caterers and cleaners. Milburn will have no power in this.

 Education Secretary David Blunkett has been promising  guaranteed nursery places for three-year-oIds. But he has said  nothing about Labour completing the Tory policy of abolishing  student grants. The students are  now forced into dependence on  bank loans - another nice little earner for the capitalists.

  And the criteria by which  schools can be deemed to be "failing" and flung into the clutches  of the profit-hungry Private sector are to be tightened. Exam  leagues tables must now show  "added value" -- that pupils not  only do well but that their per formance is significantly im proved by the school.

  This could encourage schools to play down the abilities and  performance of new pupils and  will set schools in cut-throat competition with each other.

  This is a Government under pressure which can be pushed to the left. It will not introduce socialism and it will continue to try to carry out capitalist policies  while trying to bewilder us with  a different kind of spin to that of the last three years.

  But it knows now that increasing numbers of people are seeing through the spin, are refusing to be bewildered. The pensioners and the fuel protesters have demonstrated that there is a lot more to democracy than just putting a cross on a piece of paper evey five years that ordinary people can have an impact on the Government. We do not have to just sit back and take Government policy the same way we resign ourselves to the weather.

  Ordinary working people are beginning to realise they do have a lot of power if they only act together in large enough numbers -- and this is very bad new for the capitalist system and good news for the workers.

Back to index



Feature

Low income families face eviction

by Caroline Colebrook

LOW INCOME families are facing eviction because private firms brought in by some local authorities to process housing benefit claims are taking so long.

 A recent report from the local government ombudsman, Edward Osmotherly, shows a dramatic 73 per cent increase in last-resort appeals by desperate tenants, some of whom are near to suicide.

 Most of this increase related to four London boroughs who have privatised the processing of HB claims: Southwark who use the firm CSL, Lambeth who use Capita, Hackney and Islington, both of whom use IT Net.

 The report shows a staggering total of 17,555 complaints about HB maladministration and that many of the complaints were justified. Sixty nine percent of these appeals to the ombudsman led to a settlement.

 A showdown last year between Mr Osmotherly and Lambeth council failed to prevent the number of complaints in the borough from doubling last year. Lambeth admits this is "unacceptable".

 Capita has been massaging the figures concerning its backlog of work. It ring-fenced all unprocessed claims and unopened mail, some 20,000 items received before April and the counted everything that arrived after that as "not part of the backlog".

 So as the firm was claiming that the backlog had been substantially reduced, two rooms of unprocessed claims and unopened letters which arrived after 1 April were found by a Benefit Fraud Investigation team.

 The BFI also slammed Southwark for "unlawful working practices" where it found a backlog of 14,000 unprocessed claims in May 1999 one year after CSL won the contract Just four months later the backlog had grown to 34,000.

 The CSL contract says that all calls should be answered in the first minute but the investigators found that 31 per cent of caller have to hang on so long they give up before the call is answered.

 Claimants sometimes had benefit stopped on grounds of fraud when their "change of circumstance" letters had been lying in a huge pile of unopened letters for months.

 Normally if a tenant is threatened with eviction before an HB claim is settled, they only have to turn up to the eviction hearing at their local court and show the documentation for the case to be thrown out and the council to be castigated by the magistrates for wasting court time.

 Now, the New Worker has been told, the volume of such cases referred through the courts is so great that court officials are dispensed to local authority offices with a rubber stamp.

 Tenants are asked only whether or not the rents arrears have been cleared before the eviction process is given the rubber stamp. Mr Osmotherly said that in one case a pregnant woman was forced to leave her flat because her benefit was four months late. She and her daughter are now living in a squat.

 "It's disgusting that I lost my home because of a backlog of paperwork," she said.

 Age Concern has also reported an increase in calls from anxious pensioners. Forty per cent of HB claims are from pensioners.

 The arrears involved in these backlogs mean that council figures are distorted while housing associations are nearly being made bankrupt. Private landlords are saying they can no longer afford to accept tenants on benefits.

 The National Homeless Alliance says that HB arrears and maladministration are one of the main causes of homelessness.

 The local authorities concerned do have the power to seize back the administration of HB but so far none have done this.

 The situation is made worse by 115 changes that have been made by the Government over the last 18 months to the way HB is regulated.

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International

Eye of the storm in Prague

by Steve Lawton

THOUSANDS finally made it to Prague to demonstrate against the latest round of international finance meetings this week, with the familiar pitched battles being fought between riot police and a section of activists attempting to reach the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) buildings.

 By Tuesday night, the Czech government was said to be considering an Army response. According to Prague Post six armoured personnel carriers, six troop trucks, two fire engines, two Mi-17 helicopters and two W-3A Sokol helicopters were on standby.

 Around 3,000 were said to be in running battles and over 500 have been arrested. About 10,000 protesters in all reached Prague.

 Meanwhile inside, James Woolfonsohn, World Bank chief, stretched sincerity to its limits when he acknowledged protesters' complaints about the damaging effects of globalisation in the developing world, by telling the seried ranks of billion-dollar suits inside that tackling poverty is what they are all about.

 Perhaps the real problem was best inadvertently exposed by Frits Bolkestein, the EU commissioner for the internal market and taxation, when he said in the Wall Street Journal (in advance of his Prague speech) on Monday: "Culturally, the opponents of globalisation see a process that shapes a world in which many features are alike. Every major city has a McDonald's; every major hotel gets CNN; every major cinema shows American films.

 "This is why many people think of globalisation as a byword for Americanisation, for which free trade and the current world market economy is a mere vehicle." The broad range of the protests, which were in the main conducted peacefully, suggests he recognises the underlying threat that a broad and persistent mobilisation like this potentially represents. Even Oxfam were represented on the streets.

 The ten days ofevents, organised by the Initiative Against Economic Globalisation (INPEG) -- a broad network of Czech anarcho, environmental, ecological and other groups -- began on 20 September. There was a Union of Communist Youth contingent with the Czech Communist Party leader Miroslav Grebenicek.

 Demonstrations, information campaigns, an art festival and a counter-summit are all aimed at grabbing the world's, especially the West's, attention. Predictably, the alternative platform was ignored in the mass media, but increasingly activists are using the Internet to file news for all with access to access.

 This sense of siege has an impact when capitalist crisis bites and the glaring contradictions of the widening wealth divide incite more and more to popular action. The combination of overproduction, oil price crisis, failure to address the developing world's needs and persistent ever-richer transnational dominance is provoking a reaction.

 The millions being spent by the Treasury to lift the Euro value is yet another missile whizzing through (not MI6) but Chancellor Brown's pro-IMF open market and privatisation defence in the face of these protests. No big-wig meet goes unnoticed now, wherever it is, as Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Brown would have noted when they passed the large Brighton Prague solidarity demonstration outside Labour Party conference this week.

 However much attempts are made to discredit the anti-capitalist actions as either simply excuses for violent rampages or as a force unsupported by the silent majority, the reality is different.

 In the Czech Republic a poll carried out by the IVVM agency concluded, according to Radio Prague, that "the vast majority of Czechs agree with many of the statements made by anti-globalisation demonstrators." It said, for instance, that 91 per cent accepted the rich-poor divide was widening; while 90 per cent said the same for the developed and the developing world divide.

 That degree of sentiment also implies domestic discontent as a so-called transitional economy! Another big-wig meet took place last Saturday, between the finance ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and Estonia. They were supposedly agreed, yet again, that it would take just 3-5 years to satisfy the Maastricht criteria for joining the EU.

 What may be transitional is the connection dawning in many of these countries that EU membership will seal their fate as marginalised economies, compounded also by Nato's costly embrace.

Back to index



British News

Brighton S24 counter-conference

by Albert Williams

A COUNTER conference of Labour supporters took place on Sunday 24 September in Brighton, in spite of the intention to ban it.

 Very many obstacles were involved to obstruct it by the council and others.

 The main theme was privatisation and resistance but other sessions and workshops continued throughout the day.

 There were many speakers including Tony Benn MP, Susan George, Bruce Kent and Paul Foot. Speakers from abroad included Jose Villa from Bolivia and Explo Nani Kofi from Africa. Many others made contributions from the floor.

 The event was an outstanding success and a number of New Workers were sold.

 A great many dedicated young people spoke and, after the event, some left for Prague to join the demonstration there against the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and globalisation.

 A very large gathering and parade on this theme took place that evening.

 Both these peaceful events were overwhelmingly policed by security guards and police in full riot gear. There were many mounted police there with batteries of video cameras. Many of the police had been bussed in from neighbouring counties.

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