The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 31st October, 1997

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Editorial - Whose gain?
Lead Story - Dockers vote to fight on.
Feature - Labour lets down refugees.
International - Mandela backs Libya over Lockerbie.
British News - Health workers reject £1 an hour night shift rate.


 Whose gain?

 IT WAS clear from last Monday's debate in the House of Commons on European Monetary Union (EMU) that the ruling capitalist class is still divided on this issue. The dominant section of that class wants Britain to join EMU, proceed with full integration into a single European state and, among other things, ensure the City of London becomes the main financial centre for that state.

 Chancellor Gordon Brown made clear in his speech to the House that the Labour government effectively supports that dominant section of the ruling class and has committed the government to join EMU when it is deemed to be the right economic moment -- probably soon after the next general election.

 The Chancellor has not given a date for anything, including the promised referendum. But it is clear that while Britain is unlikely to join EMU in the first round, it will continue to prepare for entry by following the same stringent policies as those countries which are joining straight away.

 The decision to wait for the crest of the economic wave before plunging into EMU is not the only reason for holding back. The government also wants more time to sell the idea of EMU and the European state and to turn the referendum into an overwhelming endorsement of the government's policy. Because of the divisions in their ranks, the Tories were never able to commit themselves to a public campaign for entry into EMU.

 Why this unusual concern about public opinion? The government is worried that opposition to EMU, and the EU itself, will grow as the harsh realities of these policies hit home. In addition to the right-wing Euro-sceptics, there is opposition within the left of the Labour Party, fiom the communist movement and in the broad labour movement -- but from a different standpoint.

 The government almost certainly wants time in order to take the initiative and step-up pro-EMU and pro-European propaganda to try to prevent growing numbers of people rallying behind the left's progressive position. If the government fails to win support for taking Britain into EMU it will risk being blamed and punished in the polling booths for the misery EMU will bring.

 Gordon Brown's speech was aimed to please Britain's bosses and the wealthy elite. Clearly, the majority of the British people, the working class, are expected to buy the "one nation" line of the Chancellor's speech and go along with the myth that what is good for the bosses must be good for us too.

 But we are not "one nation". We are a class-divided, capitalist society in which there is a fundamental contradiction between capital and labour.

 What is good for the City, for the big banks and the transnationals will only be won at the expense of Europe's workers.

 Even before EMU is off the ground working people throughout the European Union are being squeezed by draconian cutbacks in social spending and by worsening employment conditions as each state tries to meet the Maastricht Treaty's convergence criteria.

 Gordon Brown wants Britain to keep pace with these preparations for entry into EMU. This means the welfare state will continue to be attacked by spending cuts and threats of dismemberment.

 He promised to continue encouraging a flexible labour market. That's a polite way of telling the workforce it's got to put up with whatever conditions the bosses want - rotten shift patterns, short-term contracts, casual employment, part time and temporary work and further attacks on collective bargaining and national agreements worked out with the unions.

 And when the conditions for EMU are met we can be sure there'll be no let up. The government and the employers are not going to give us any compensation or vote of thanks. The unsocial work patterns, the cuts in the social wage will go on -- until working class struggle forces things to change.

 The long-term prospects of EMU are even worse than the journey to get to the starting post. Fiscal policy will be in the hands of unelected and unaccountable bankers. The leading capitalists will call the shots in Brussels and run Europe pie in the interests of big business.

 Unemployment will remain high with the greatest concentration at the fringes of Europe.

 The demands of the Maastricht Treaty will continue to be imposed -- in times of global economic capitalist crisis even more stringent measures will be introduced to ensure that, as always, the workers carry the burden.

 The European Union, monetary union and  the single European state are against the interests of the majority of Europeans. We need to fight now and keep that fight going to say No to EMU and No to the Treaty of Rome!

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Lead Story

Dockers vote to fight on.

by Daphne Liddle
THE SACKED Liverpool dockers last week voted by 69 per cent to continue their two-year battle for reinstatement and to reject a "final" settlement offer from their employer, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company.

 The secret ballot had been imposed after negotiations between the MDHC and TGWU general secretary Bill Morris and against the judgement of the dockers' shop stewards.

 Nevertheless the shop stewards complied with the ballot and its result vindicates their stance.

 After the ballot result was declared and while pickets were celebrating, the MDHC sent out individual offers to the dockers -- after their original final deadline for acceptance.

 "So much for democracy," said a representative of the stewards' committee. "They sprung the secret ballot and went through the Electoral Reform Ballot Services. Sixty nine per cent rejected the offer on a 91 per cent turnout. Now there's going to be a re-run, without the ERBS!

 "A few days ago, it was 'take it or leave it', but now Mersey Docks is literally begging men to take the money. The smell of panic is overpowering."

 Later the MDHC claimed that some 60 dockers had accepted the £28,000 pay-off.

 Jimmy Nolan of the shop stewards' committee said: "There will be no bitterness or recrimination against the men who have applied for the payoff. Some men are getting older now and some have bad health."

 The settlement package was very divisive -- offering a small chance of a re-employment in some menial job about the docks, and totally excluding the employees of Torside -- a subsidiary of MDHC -- who staged the original picket that the other dockers were sacked for refusing to cross.

 They were fighting the re-introduction of casual working terms and conditions that would have left them at the beck and call of the company 24- hours-a-day but never certain of any work or pay.

 The dockers' dispute has been largely ignored by most of the British media for two years.

 But the dockers have gained strength from the enormous level of international solidarity that has grown up around their cause, culminating in a global dock strike on 8 September.

 Many other dockers throughout the world are fighting similar struggles and now, through the international conferences staged by the Liverpool dockers and through their very active Internet web-site, dockers around the world are united in fighting casualisation and low pay.

 Now the Liverpool dockers have sent a resolution to their union criticising Bill Morris' role in imposing the ballot.

 Frank Lannigan, a docks shop steward described the ballot result as "a great victory" but added: "Bill Morris believed that we were anti-democratic and militant -- we have proved that we are not. He must come out now and express support for us."

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Labour lets down refugees.

By Caroline Colebrook
ASYLUM seekers in Britain are facing increasing hostility after a media campaign against gypsy refugees from the former Czechoslovakia over the past two weeks.

The refugees are fleeing racist attacks which have seen around 30 deaths and hundreds of serious injuries carried out by neo-Nazi thugs now tolerated by the governments of Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

 In their own land, where their families have lived for 400 years, they are described as aliens. Local authorities have been evicting them from council houses, courts have been taking away thcircitizenship and government officers are proposing they should be rounded up into ghettos.

 This contrasts sharply with their lives when Czechoslovakia was socialist and all residents were guaranteed jobs and homes.

 Now, under capitalism, crashing living standards for all and rising crime mean the government is glad to have any scapegoat to divert attention from its selling of the country's wealth to western imperialist enterprises.

 But laws passed under the Tory government in Britain mean that the burden of looking after the approximately 800 refugees who have landed in Britain has fallen entirely on the Dover local authority.

 A recently closed residential home for the elderly has had to be opened to provide emergency accommodation.

 And this had led to great resentment that money could be found to open for refugees hut not for local elderly people.

 East Kent is an area of high unemployment -- not far from the former Kent coalfield. There are many very poor families who are getting very little in the way of benefits compared to their needs.

 And the racist press is using this to stir up racist hatred against the asylum-seekers, labelling them as economic immigrants -- "Giro-Czechs" -- merely in search of easy money rather than really in danger.

 The capitalist press cannot admit that the new capitalism of eastern Europe is not the democratic utopia they predicted. If the Labour government had repealed the racist Tory Immigration and Asylum Bill -- as it pledged to do last year -- central government would be responsible for looking after these gypsy refugees and on a national scale, caring for 800 would be very small beer.

 Many London boroughs, especially in west London near Heathrow, are also facing impossible burdens looking after refugees from other parts of the world.

 Around 1,500 refugees from the volcano-stricken island of Monserrat -- described as one of Britain's oldest and most loyal dependencies -- are in London.

 They quit their island on government advice but now they find themselves dumped in squalid council flats without heat or furniture.

 It is estimated that around 20,000 are in London, at a cost to the local authorities of some £2 million a week.

 The government has offered to reimburse the councils about 70 per cent of these costs but it is still forcing those councils to cut other services.

 Nick Hardwick of the Refugee Council said: "The situation is reaching crisis point as we predicted it would.

 "Community relations are in great danger of being damaged and the people suffering the most are the asylum-seekers themselves.

 "The government must move urgently to address the problem."

 British gypsies are concerned that media hysteria over the Czech and Slovakian refugees will re-ignite hostility to them and encourage British neo-Nazis.

 Pete Mercer of the East Anglian Gypsy Council said: "The situation for gypsies in Eastern Europe is terrible, but in our country too there is an attempt to destroy our culture and everything we do."

 Labour must be pressured to repeal the racist Tory anti-asylum laws.

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Mandela backs Libya over Lockerbie.

by our Middle East affairs correspondent.
SOUTH AFRICAN president Nelson Mandela pushed Britain and the United States on to the defensive by backing Muamar Gaddafi's demand that the two Libyan accused of causing the Lockerbie plane crash be tried in a neutral country during his visit to Tripoli last week -- and raised it again at the Commonwealth Conference in Scotland over the weekend.

 Mandela told Tony Biair and the other Commonwealth leaders that Britain could not be "complainant, prosecutor and judge" in Edinburgh and called for a third party trial of the two suspects -- a demand endorsed by the Arab League and the Organisation of African Unity.

 And Mandela pointedly stopped off in Libya on his return to South Africa for a further meeting with the Libyan leader, though his staff made it clear he was not mediating on the Lockerbie issue.

 Nelson Mandela received a rapturous welcome in Tripoli during his two-day stay in Libya last week. Mandela said it was a great honour to come to their country and renew the strong personal links between the Libyan people and the people of South Africa.

 Muamar Gaddafi, the leader of the Libyan Revolution welcomed Mandela, who, he said, spent most of his youth in the prisons of the white racists. All the people of South Africa were in prison then, not just Nelson Mandela.

 "But this suffering and these sacrifices foiled the plots of the white imperialists and enabled the people of South Africa to emerge victorious in the end," Gaddafi said.

 President Mandela emphasised that the people of South Africa would not forget the Libyan people who stood with them in the forefront of their struggle for freedom and contributed to their victory.

 "This visit also enables us to witness the suffering of the Libyan people as a result of the sanctions. In fact we feel that it is very important that we act together towards finding a fair and just solution to the problems of the world and give consideration to the relations between the rich and the poor, the developed and the developing countries. As Africans we will not forget the problems facing our African brothers" Mandela declared.

 The South African leader paid tribute to the immense help Libya had given the African National Congress during the years of struggle against the apartheid regime. And he spelt out South Africa's position over Lockerbie loud and clear when he condemned "countries that play policemen of the world".

 "The Organisation of African Unity has taken a decision that the so-called Libyan suspects must be tried in a neutral country...I think we must stick with that position" he declared.

 These were words Tony Blair didn't want to hear coming so soon after a similar demand from the relatives of the Lockerbie victims.

 Foreign Minister Robin Cook spent much of his time in Edinburgh trying to defend the Anglo-American stand -- for a trial in Scotland or the United States and sanctions against the Libyans to force them to submit.

 When directly asked whether Britain had dismissed a trial on neutral ground Cook did say: "I don't rule out anything".

 But he clearly has. After the Conference was over all he could come up with was an offer to the heads of the UN, Arab League and the OAU to visit Scotland to study the Scottish legal system which he claimed "guaranteed" that the two Libyans fingered by the West would get a fair trial.

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British News

Health workers reject £1 an hour night shift rate.
by Steve Lawton
HEALTH service unions are once more in dispute with management in the North-East Essex Mental Health Trust.

 Some of the staff in the new rehabilitation units in the area have been told they will now be expected to perform "step-in duties".

 This means that as well as working their normal week of 37.5 hours, staff in these areas will be expected to do a minimum of two step-ins (where they will be provided with a bed in the unit and may be called at any point during the night).

 This will amount to a 58.5 hour working week and will put severe strains on staff both at work and in their private lives.

 The fact that these workers will be paid at the princely rate off £1 an hour for the step-ins adds insult to injury.

 Senior trust mangers are trying to impose this system in a way that has left many staff feeling bullied, victimised and demoralised.

 Trust chief executive Chris Bridges is determined to avoid the very serious issues raised, in spite of a strong argument and evidence put forward by unions and the staff members.

 His summing up clearly failed to recognise how traumatised the staff group was feeling.

 Workers carefully pointed out the effect such changes will have on the clients (patients), resulting from a probable change in the entire nursing team.

 The senior management team unfairly dismissed these concerns and it became clear they were only concerned with cost cutting in a division that traditionally has problems managing its budget.

 A local representative of the public sector union Unison told the New Worker that he was shocked and dismayed at developments.

 "The division will happily splash out on desk-top computers for line mangers, mobile phones for medical staff and so on whilst shop floor staff and clients alike have to cope with a continuing barrage of cuts," he said.

 "It seems executive toys are more important that front-line nursing care."

 And he said the union is ready to widen this dispute across the whole trust and even throughout the NHS because what the management is trying here is seen as the thin end of the wedge.

 There is a growing belief among managers that employees are their chatels and, as such, can be manipulated in any way which is thought fit.

 We must ensure that our new Labour government is committed to the National Health Service; that whatever money is available is spent wisely to improve patient care, and that health service employees are treated with the respect due to them.

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