The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 30th November 2001

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Editorial - On the sick.
Lead Story - American aggression threatens the world.
Feature - British transport "worse in Europe".
International - US: recession and hunger.
British News - Tax credits to subsidise low pay.
More news and Diary


On the sick

CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown's pre-budget speech was largely a kite-flying exercise to prepare us for a tax rise aimed at boosting NHS funding. It could be just what the doctor ordered -- making the rich pay back more of the wealth the working class have created in order to fund an essential service for the benefit of all.

 The trouble is it doesn't usually work out quite like that. It is more likely that the rich will continue to get off lightly while higher paid workers do the forking out.

 There is no doubt of course that our NHS and other public services need the money. Years of Tory cuts took their toll and further years of backdoor privatisation by both Tory and Labour governments have drained money out of the services to provide profits for private investors.

 As a result Britain's health service is lagging behind those of other west European countries and, as a recent survey has shown, our transport services are among the worst in Europe.

 This situation is not just a matter of taxation levels. The British working class is saddled with an enormous burden of military spending -- greater than that of other European countries.

 The desire of the British capitalist class to be second only to the United States as a bullying military power is a very costly business. And of course business and economic domination is ultimately what all that is for. The working class, though it pays the bills, neither starts these militaryy adventures nor gains from them.

 Some argue that working people do benefit from the victories of the ruling class in the form of crumbs from the rich man's table. But even the crumbs have to be struggled for, and in a kneeling posture to boot.

 The militarism of the British ruling class is hardly ever discussed in these debates about public spending. But we should demand to know the facts -- facts such as the cost of Britain's participation in the war on Afghanistan.

 We should demand that Britain withdraw from that imperialist attack on the poorest country in the world and put the war chest at the disposal of the NHS and other socially useful services instead.

 In effect, the British working class is being prepared for tax rises because the government refuses to consider its spending on war and war preparations. And though Gordon Brown claims he is only concerned with boosting spending on the NHS -- and the extra cash may very well go in that direction -- his argument ignores the whole matter of a ring-fenced defence budget.

 The Tories, who of course support the bombing of Afghanistan and high levels of defence spending, have an even more reactionary view of tackling the problems in the NHS.

 They want even more involvement of private funding in the NHS. They argue that the NHS doesn't need lots more public money but a better organisation and more businesslike approach.

 So far the experience of privatising parts of the NHS has been anything but businesslike. Not only has it created more paperwork and layers of administration, it has caused the contracts of many hospital workers to be redrawn to the detriment of those workers -- we remember the strike of the Hillingdon Hospital cleaners.

 Privatisation and Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is the very worst road to go down. Down there lies the wreck of Railtrack, the yoke of debt to the finance houses and the end of a universal system of care free to all.

 We say, keep the NHS as a public service that is democratically controlled. Stop pouring billions into warmongering. Stop the war on Afghanistan. Tax the rich!

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Lead Story

American aggression threatens the world

by our Middle East affairs correspondent

AMERICAN ground forces are now operating in Afghanistan following the seizure of Kandahar airport last week. American bombers are continuing their murderous sorties against Kandahar, the last remaining Taleban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

 And US warplanes pounded a Northern Alliance POW camp in Mazar-e-Sharif to quell a prison revolt which ended with the death of one American CIA agent and all the prisoners.

 Ominously the White House is now talking about a "second stage" in the war against "terrorism" -- in thinly veiled threats against Iraq, Somalia and North Korea. Some American pundits are already talking about "victory". Others fear that the Bush agenda could soon spread death and destruction to many more countnes.

More war

 Bush has been mouthing off against Iraq and other countries that the United States has long characterised as "rogue states" because they have dared to stand up to America's "new world order".

 American imperialism has an old score to settle with the Somalis, whose clan leaders drove the American "peace-keeping force" out in street fighting in the 90s, and Democratic Korea has been singled out again for daring to supply military equipment to other Third World countries.

 As usual Bush's words are echoed by Tony Blair. The Prime Minister told the Commons that there would be a "deliberative and considered" second phase of the campaign "to take what action we can against international terrorism in all its forms" Blair claimed the plan was supported by "everyone else in the international coalition".

 But this is simply not true. Germany and France are publicly urging caution. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told his parliament that Germany was not "simply waiting to intervene militarily elsewhere in the world, in countries such as Iraq or Somalia" and he called for "great restraint".

 This was echoed by the French Defence Minister who said, "There is no other nation whose leaders have been active accomplices of terrorist actions. So we do not believe that it is necessary to take military action against other sites"

Arab anger

 Alarm bells are ringing throughout the Middle East. Syria, itself a possible future target of Bush's wrath, has warned of the danger of an American strike against Iraq. And in a defiant Baghdad, the Saddam Hussein government has rejected Washington's demand for the return of UN weapons inspectors.

 "Anyone who thinks Iraq can accept an arrogant and unilateral will of this party or that, is mistaken," an Iraqi government spokesman said. "Iraq is able to defend itself and will not bow to threats," he said.

 Few expect much from the latest American mission to Palestine. Two senior Bush envoys have arrived to try and broker yet another cease-fire but America's refusal to rein in Israel will almost certainly doom their efforts.

 Last week a top Hamas leader was killed by Israeli troops and many more Palestinian civilians including children were slaughtered in the routine brutality of the Israeli occupation force. This week the armed resistance struck back killing several Zionist settlers and injuring many more in gun attacks in the Israeli port of Afula and parts of the West Bank.

 Afghans reject Western presence

 And it's not going all Bush's way in Afghanistan. Russia has sent 200 troops to beef up its mission in Kabul and assist the Northern Alliance that now controls over half the country.

 Russia and Iran have more or less given the Alliance de facto recognition and India is now openly staking out its claim by stating that any new broad-based government must exclude Taleban altogether.

 In Germany Afghan leaders are discussing the formation of this new government which will clearly be dominated by the Northern Alliance. The northern leaders are prepared to consider a role for the old ex-king -- largely to win the southern Pathan chiefss over -- but they are opposed to any Western military presence on their soil.

Stop the war

 But the war will go on as long as British and American forces remain in Afghanistan and more and more innocent people will die until it does stop. The peace campaign in Britain and throughout the world must take this message to the millions of working people who can bring the bloodshed to an end.

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British transport "worse in Europe"

by Caroline Colebrook

BRITAIN'S transport is the worst in Europe according to a two-year official survey commissioned by John Prescott when he was Labour's first transport minister.

 The survey, conducted by consultants WS Atkins, found that our traffic jams are the worst in Europe, commuting times the longest while public transport is the most expensive and inadequate.

 Half a century of lack of investment in public transport has forced those who can to depend on private cars to get from A to B leading to mounting congestion and a reluctance to walk or cycle.

 Professor David Begg, who chaired the report, said: "We were shocked at the extent to which we're lagging behind European best practice and this doesn't make pretty reading.

 "It's a stark demonstration of two generations of neglect, of a transport network starved of investment for half a century."

 He welcomed the Government's ten-year plan for restructuring transport but wanted this was only a step in the right direction and could "only start to bridge the gap".

 Professor Begg said: "This isn't about money. It's about political leadership on a national and locallevel."

 And he added: "The decisions we take now as a nation will determine whether we will end up with a US-style car culture or a sustainable European-model system.

 "There will be less choice, even longer commutes and social exclusion for those without cars, more gridlock for those with - pedestrians a rarity, cyclists an oddity. This is not what we want." The report's findings include:

 * A quarter of major roads are jammed for at least one hour a day and ten per cent are jammed for three hours or more;

 * Rail and bus fares are the highest in Europe, three times Holland's, five times Greece's and 60 per cent more than in France;

 * People in Britain on average take 46 minutes to commute to work, twice as long as the Italian average and longer than any other European Union citizens;

 * People in Britain walk and cycle less than in any other EU

 * Britain has the lowest operating costs for public transport but, because of the low subsidies, it has the highest fares Britain has fewer rail coaches per 1,000 population than any other EU country except Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal;

 * Coach and bus use has grown by 20 per cent on average throughout Europe while it has declined in Britain,

  * Tube passengers in London last year wasted the equivalent of 6,735 years in delays caused by a deteriorating service.

 * Car use in Britain has risen by 52 per cent in the eighties and nineties, more than other European countries except the developing economies of countries like Portugal and Greece.

 The situation is particularly bad in London where it is rapidly deteriorating.

 A recent survey published in the London Evening Standard showed that 1.4 million fewer train journeys were made in London and the south-east than in the equivalent four-week period last year.

 And on London Underground some 300,000 fewer journeys are made each week than at the same time last year. This has led to a £500,000 fall in income for the Tube.

 The conclusion is simple. In both Britain and the US the influence and vested interests of the oil barons and the motor magnates have prevailed over the needs of the people.

 Professor Begg says we "have a mountain to climb". The £180 billion committed to the 10-year plan to improve our transport system is the absolute minimum needed but without a drastic change, life will become even more miserable for all but especially for the 11 million households in Britain who cannot afford a car.

 Meanwhile Dr Barry Gray, a consultant physician at Kings College Hospital claims that air quality in the capital is poorer than the Government admits, and is getting worse.

 He said: "More people than everare turning up with illnesses exacerbated by dirty air. Patients tell me their condition worsens when they are near heavy traffic."

 He said Government monitoring stations are often situated away from main roads and so give a misleading picture.

 And he added: "London is a pretty unhealthy place to live. It has been estimated that 1,600 people die prematurely in the capital each year as a result of poor air. If the same number of people were dying from salmonella, there would be a public outcry."

 ** Railtrack's administrators last week informed the Government it will have to pay at least £5 billion up to April next year simply to prevent Britain's rail system from collapsing.

 The administrators report they have found "a huge black hole" in Railtrack's finances that will have to be plugged by the taxpayer.

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US: recession and hunger

by Steve Lawton

VISIBLE enough now is the effect of the economic crisis on workers in the United States, toauthenticatethelatestexpert wisdom: that the country has been in a recession for the last six months.

 Turkey's aren't coming in for America's version of 'Crisis at Christmas', but food queues for the hungry are growing; many workers are losing their homes, while across the board, thousands of jobs are rapidly disappearing.

 According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), November 26, the United States has been in a recession since March -- the 1Oth since the end of the Second World War. It's the closest yet to an official statement by the US Administration. That may well be made early next week.

 The NBER analysis takes several indicators of economic activity into account, chief among them: employment, industrial production, real personal income and sales.

 The NBER identifies, without particular comment, that since industrial production hit a peak in September 2000, it declined "over the next 12 months by close to six per cent, surpassing the average decline in the [past six] recessions of 4.6 per cent."

 Industrial output -- especially equipment, electronics and vehicles -- has declined 10 per cent this year. Manuffacturing, after a two decades-plus decline, lost six per cent of its workforce in the past year alone.

 Even among white-collar professionals, the jobless stand at 1.2 million, an increase of 63 per cent over the past year. The unemployment level overall has risen, in the same period, officially from 3.9 to 5.4 per cent (figures which have been through many 'adjustments' to narrow the definition of unemployed).

 Over the past year, in all, 2.2 million have been made newly unemployed, Business Week (November 19), pointed out. It also noted that job ads in September were at the lowest for 18 years.

 Significant numbers of job losses began in March last year, which meant September 11 this year had an impact which still remained within the recessionary pattern.

 The social effects are clear. The Christian Science Monitor explained, on the same day as the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee's report was made available, that "With a failing economy and lengthening lines at food pantries, traditional relief charities such as soup kitchens and shelters will be highly visible this holiday season."

 An example of this concern was revealed by the San Fransisco Chronicle (November 21), which said that as Christmas looms, food storage for those in need at this time of year is dramatically down in the Bay Area.

 San Francisco Food Bank chief, Paul Ash, said: "We give away about 3,000 turkeys between Thanksgiving and Christmas and should have 1,000 by now." He's got 80 so far for a giant walk-in freezer in its Potrero Hill warehouse. The Bank's donors have almost dried up; it cannot finance the giveaways.

 As the Chronicle explained: "The turkey shortage is just one manifestation of what social service agencies fear could become a crisis: Between the economic downturn and the channeling of support to September 11 relief efforts, donations to local community-based organisations have plunged. At the same time, the number of people seeking help with food and housing has soared."

 The relief organisation, America's Second Harvest, is the biggest nationwide safetynet against widespread hunger. It calculated in October that, of its 214 food banks scattered across the country, 40 per cent reported a drop in donations.

 A year ago they reported a surge of 80 per cent. The surge was based on the growing impoverishment of American's, so the reverse of it is obviously going to be especially serious. But there is no sign that a department for 'Homeland Hunger' is about to be set up.

 Social services told the Chronicle that the low paid are increasingly seeking help. But job losses are hitting many sectors: "The people coming to us now are often people who never expected to be standing in a food line", said Barbara Zahner, Sacred Heart Community Service director in San Jose.

 The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a workers' research organisation, revealed back in July that 29 per cent ofworking families "with one to three children under the age of 12 do not earn enough income to afford basic necessities like food, housing, health care, and child care, even during a period of national prosperity." Food insufficiency, of all hardships, is the most prevalent, EPI said.

 But the bosses are sure not to go without. Abraham Lincoln noted back in 1837 that "capitalists generally act, harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people." Organised workers will, in time, fleece capitalism.

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British News

Tax credits to subsidise low pay

by Daphne Liddle

CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown last week made his annual autumn budget statement by pretending to play Father Christmas to the low paid and to pensioners, while at the same lime warning that serious improvements to the NHS must be paid for from higher taxation.

 He is appearing to be generous while performing some crafty sleight of hand with the figures.

 Tax credits for low paid families will be extended to couples with no children and even single people on low pay.

 How can he afford this with a recession developing? Well, many families will see their tax credits cut because calculations will now be based on the incomes of both parents.

 Until now, if neither parent earned more than £33,985 a year, full family credit of £520 a year could be claimed. Next year, if the parents' joint income exceeds £41,735 they will not be eligible for any tax credits.

 But these tax credits are in effect a means tested benefit which subsidises low wages. It is a way of making middle income workers subsidise the wage packets of low paid workers -- to the ultimate benefit of stingy bosses who call then get away with very low wages.

 It also extends the great poverty trap to workers without dependent children. This will make it easier for the Government to pressure the unemployed -- and soon there will be a lot more of themm -- into very low paid jobs.

 Workers in these jobs then find pay rises a very mixed blessing, especially if they are in rented accommodation and get housing benefit.

 A rise in pay will mean they lose housing benefit and council tax benefit by as much as 80 per cent of the rise. They will also lose the tax credits meaning they will have very little incentive to campaign for higher wages.

 This in turn will undermine trade union struggles around wages.

 It is a form of wealth redistribution which will effectively mean that the disposable income of the vast majority of workers is evened out no matter what the figure on the pay packet -- but the rich will still be laughing.

 And it is a system that cannot last indefinitely. When the recession throws more people out of decent jobs and the Government harasses them off the dole queues into low paid jobs, there will be fewer capable of paying the taxes needed to run this system.

 When the majority of workers are low paid and seeking tax credits rather than to pay taxes, it must collapse -- unless the Government seriously raises indirect taxes like VAT which hit everyone but take a disproportionately large amount from low income households.

 Mr Brown has also appeared to be generous to pensioners, giving a modest rise to the basic state pension but a bigger rise to the means-tested minimum income guarantee. This also is to be administered as a tax credit.

 The minimum income guarantee will be £100 a week for the poorest pensioners by the year 2003 and the £200 winter fuel payment will remain for the length of this parliament.

 But the pledged 2.5 per cent increase in the basic state pension nowhere near makes up for the break in the link between pensions and average male earnings. It is this that pensioners want to see restored as the only guarantee against poverty in old age, at a time when all kinds of private pensions are looking more and more risky.

 Mr Brown has said the NHS will continue to be funded by general taxation and has rejected the Tory idea of introducing compulsory private health insurance.

 And he has warned this will mean serious tax increases -- possibly 10 per cent -- if the NHS is to be rescued from the appalling state it has fallen into.

 Many surveys have shown that the majority of the public are willing to pay more taxes if this really will improve the NHS.

 But the danger is that with the current NHS structure and increasing use of PFI schemes to build hospitals and using private hospitals to cut waiting lists, much of this extra money will simply end up in private pockets and make little impact in terms of improving the NHS.

 If people are taxed heavily with the expectation this will improve the NHS and then it does not, there will be a real danger that whatever government is in power at the time, it will take the Tory route and effectively end the NHS in favour of private health insurance schemes.

 The money must be used properly and carefully and not wasted on back-door privatisation schemes -- and it must certainly not be wasted in more imperialist war adventures like the attacks on Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Iraq.

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