New Worker Online Archive
Week of 10th January 1997



Editorial - Whose interest? & All at sea!
Lead Story - Tory manifesto threat to jobs.Thousands of jobs at risk under new privatisation plans.
Feature - Rail privatisation leaves no-one ready to pay for safety.
International - Albanian riots rock Berisha regime.
British News - Union breakthrough at GCHQ.



Editorial


Whose interest? & All at sea!


THE most significant fact about the European Union is that everyone of it's member countries is a capitalist state. All are therefore characterised by the exploitation of labour and everywhere there is class struggle.

 Just as this capitalist class once found it advantageous to develop nation states, so it now finds it necessary to subsume those nation states into a larger and, it hopes, stronger single
European state.

 European capital is taking this path to serve its own interests -- to protect it's own market, to strebgthen itself in relation to the rival imperialist centres, the United States and Japan and to dispense with what it sees as obstacles to the free movement of capital and goods arising from frontiers, national currencies and other differing rules and practices. But the working class, far from benefiting from the emergence of a European state, will face increasing pressure as the mote streamlined capitalist state sets about increasing the rate of exploitation.

 There is, unfortunately, a persistent myth in capitalist societies that what is good for the ruling class is also good for everyone else -- often referred to as "our national interest". 

Somehow, it is assumed, fatter profits for the bosses will mean larger crumbs falling down to the people below.

 This idea is all too often accepted even though it flies in the face of our daily experience.

 The reality is that workers only maintain or improve their wages, conditions, working hours or the social wage when they demand these things and when they struggle for them.

 Because of the unavoidable class struggle which is a feature of all capitalist societies, institutions set up by the capitalist class to advance its interests are bound to be against the interests of the working class. The European Union is such a capitalist creation and should be totally opposed.

 This does not mean we should jump into bed with the reactionary nationalism of the European Single State's Far Right opponents. In any case, the publicity given to the views of Tory rebels and organisations Like the Referendum Party and the UK Independence Party only adds to many people's confusion since that debate revolves around the various concerns of different sectional interests within the ruling class.

 It is regrettable that some voices on the left are starting to argue that full integration with the EU is now inevitable and that the labour movement needs to begin tailoring its organisations to the new Europe.

 This argument not only backs away from the fight against the European Single State itself but it actually assists the ruling class in its efforts to standardise and streamline Europe by starting to voluntarily te-organise Europe's labour movement to fit.

 The ruling class, who are not so naive as to think the unions will just go away, would welcome this helpful approach. It is after all in line with their own preparations to standardise taxation, pensions, benefits and, no doubt eventually, wages, hours, conditions, holidays and social provision.

 Of course there has to be international working class solidarity -- that is a fundamental principle. But walking off the pitch before the game is over does not help anyone,
anywhere.

 What is needed most is a greater effort to put across the arguments against the EU from a working class perspective. We need to show that working class people will not only suffer from the effotts to reach the convergence critetia for joining the Single Currency, but would continue to suffer from European Monetary Union and the dictatorship of the transnationals after the various pieces of paper were signed.

 Once in place EMU would continue to attack the working class as it strove to hold down inflation, curt, public spending and cope with the inevitable cyclical crises of capitalism.
 Whatever strength the capitalist class might gain from forming a larger blee would beused to step up pressure on the working class both in Europe and the developing world.

  Therefore we fight on and say not just NO to Maastricht and  EMU but NO to the EU itself.


          
All at sea
THE Tories have surely scored an own-goal by backing the idea of spending millions of pounds of public money on a new Royal Yacht. Cutbacks in the NHS, education, local govemment spending and so on have hit people in every part of the country. There can be few who think a new floating palace is a priority. Major may be about to learn that his crumbling party needs more than a few bangs on the old patriotic drum to keep itself in office.
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Lead Story


Tory manifesto threat to jobs


Thousands of jobs at risk under new privatisation plans

DETAILS of the Tories' election manifesto were drawn up last week when the Cabinet met at Chequers. The plans include a further round of privatisations threatening thousands of jobs. Targeted for privatisation are: Inland Revenue; London Underground; National Savings; social services and the Post Office. Plans for the Inland Revenue include the sale of up to 450 tax offices and the introduction of private contractors to assess tax returns. Labour's public services spokesperson Derek Foster said, ".. .the government appears to be galloping towards a sell-off without even checking whether the 250 million price tag is enough. I am alarmed that the taxpayer could be swindled by this deal." He went on, "The Conservatives have reduced themselves to the role of the nation's pawnbroker, desperately flogging off anything they can get their hands on." John Sheldon, joint general secretary of public service union PTC, called the plans "dogma gone mad" and said: "Coming on top of self-assessment and repeated cuts in staffing, it is also totally unrealistic". The Inland Revenue has already suffered staff cuts as a result of the running of its computer being passed to the United States firm, EDS. A south London PTC branch secretary told the New Worker "People are extremely worried about their jobs. If the Tories get back in, they'll be out of a job within two years. No civil servant in their right mind will be voting Tory." Privatisation and unemployment go hand in hand -- cutting labour costs and closing plants and offices are among the measures used to raise the high profits desired by the new private owners. It means the other sector threatened by the Tory manifesto will also face job cuts and the public will lose out as prices rise and services worsen. The rest of the Tory agenda is just as appalling. It includes policies to increase the number of grammar schools -- further undermining the comprehensive principle in education and advancing the creation of a two-tier system. One London teacher commented to the New Worker that the proposals would be another nail in the coffin of local government and democratic control of education. It would, he said, turn the clock back to the days of 11 plus selection. They also want to set up a review of pensions that would give a bigger role to the private sector. It represents a further attack on the principle of universality and will add to the already growing feelings of insecurity many people have. The beneficiaries will be the big City financial institutions and insurance companies. Yet while the privatisation programme seeks to reduce government spending to less than 40 per cent of gross domestic product, the Tories plan to give more handouts to the rich by scrapping inheritance and capital gains tax. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Last week saw the government struggling in both the House of Commons and the Lords. It was given a roasting in the House of Lords over the Home Secretary's Bill that would introduce US-style minimum mandatory sentences for repeat offenders. In the Commons it lost a vote on part of its education programme which was seeking to allow grant maintained schools to expand their capacity by up to 50 per cent This welcome piece of news showed the shakiness of a government with no overall majority. The best news will come when they are kicked out altogether -the election cannot be soon enough!
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Feature


Rail privatisation leaves no-one ready to pay for safety


by Daphne Liddle

LIVES are being put at risk on our newly privatised railways because no one is prepared to take the responsibility -- and pick up the bill -- for switching off live rails during some incidents. This was a claim made by Fire Brigades Union leaders who, with the support of the rail unions, are seeking urgent talks with Home Office ministers. When there is a serious accident, the current is turned off immediately so that fire fighters and other emergency services can reach and rescue casualties. Railtrack is the body responsible for this and has claimed it "would never put anyone's life at risk". And Railtrack says that a code of practice was worked out and agreed last summer. But the FBU and rail unions say it is "ineffective" and recount three recent incidents where there had been dangeruus delays in cutting off the current. FBU spokesperson Mike Shore said:'There was a case at East Croydon last month where we were called to a person who had fallen under a train. "For obvious reasons we don't go onto the track until the current is turned off. But we were told there was "nobody in authority" to do that and we would have to wait until the area manager arrived from Gatwick. "This sort thing is becoming increasingly common nationwide, but more so in London because of all the routes converging on the capital." He described another incident at Abbey Wood where the fire brigade had been called to a train fire but on arrival were told that the train driver had dealt with the incident and they were not needed and that the train would be inspected when it arrivedat Charing Cross. In another incident, involving a fire at the Selhurst Park depot it took over an hour for the current to be turned off. FBU leaders met last Tuesday with rail union leaders, including RMT general secretary Jimmy Knapp and Aslef general secretary Lew Adams and leaders of the white collar union TSSA. Lew Adams said his members could be told not to drive past fire fighters. "We will instruct drivers that, if there is a safety problem, they should stop their train anyway." "We are not going to have trains going past fire fighters putting their lives at risk." A spokesperson for the RMT told the New Worker: "This is a matter of great concern to fire fighters, railway workers and it should be for passengers. "It's a direct consequence of privatisation and the fragmentation of the railways. Now no one is willing to take decisions that might affect the running of trains and lead to increased charges. "So financial considerations are being put before safety." When asked what the unions would hope for from an incoming Labour govemrnent, the RMT spokesperson replied: "The whole problem can be traced to the fact that the railways are now run on the basis of legal contracts involving train operation cornpanies, leasing companies, Railtrack and so on. "Whenever there's delays, someone has to pay. So the train operating companies won't ask for the power to be turned off because they're frightened they'll incur costs for the disruption to the rest of the system. "An incoming Labour government must start unravelling the mess and start re-integrating the railways. No one pretends this can happen overnight. The government has created so much havoc, it will be a long-term exercise to sort it out. London FBU spokesperson Mike Shore last Wednesday criticised plans put forward by the capital's fire authority for a merger between London's fire and ambulance services. The London Fire Brigade says the proposals arise from an approach made by the ambulance service in 1995 -- when it was having great difficulty in meeting target response times -- and says the merger would save money and cut response times. Mike Shore said he was concerned that any attempt to merge the two services would be used as a cover for cuts and lead to a deterioration of both services. He went on to say that they were two very different services meeting different needs with different skills. Equipping fire engines with defibrillators (for treating heart attacks) is no substitute for proper paramedics. Mr Shore added that if the ambulance service was having difficulties meeting response times it was because it was chronically underfunded. Funding should be restored and the ambulance service brought up to scratch.
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International


Albanian riots rock Berisha regime


ANGRY Albanians have taken to the streets throughout the former socialist republic demanding an end to the Sali Berisha government which they blame for the collapse of pyramid investment schemes which have cost them their life savings. But Berisha blames the opposition Socialist Party and former members of the old secret police of inciting the violence that rocked his regime to its foundations. Angry mobs attacked government buildings and offices of the ruling Democratic Party in towns right across the Balkan republic last week in violent protests following the failure of get-rich-quick rackets which claimed investors could double their money in two or three months. Over a million Albanians, some say half the 3.2 million population, have lost their entire savings -- often made through working abroad -- and now they want the government which encouraged them out. Over the weekend the police lost control of some of the cities as the protests, which began two weeks ago, became increasingly violent when it became clear that Berisha was doing nothing to help the people. Deputy premier Tritan Shehu was forced to flee to the changing rooms of a football stadium in Lushnje after failing to pacify the angry crowd. Roads and railway lines have been blocked cutting the country in half and severing the routes to Greece and Yugoslavia. In the capital, Tirana, tens of thousands smashed through riot police lines to get to a rally in Skanderbeg Square. Chanting "The govemment are thieves. We want our money back" they stoned the police and forced them to retreat. Other policemen, themselves victims of the frauds, openly said they would refuse to fight the demonstrators and some said they would even join the protests. The tame parliament, the product of last year's rigged elections, has given Berisha special powers to restore order and soldiers are now on the streets. His government has belatedly moved against the pyramid scam operators, freezing their bank accounts, banning the schemes and arresting their two top directors, "General" Xhafeni and Bashkirn Driza. This has done nothing to restore Berisha's standing. Last Tuesday he attempted to rally his followers in the anti-communist Democratic Party with a march against the Socialist Party HQ in Tirana. But the march was called off and only a few thousand turned up for a govemment rally in the capital carrying placards in English with anti-communist slogans like "Stop the Red Terror" for the benefit of the western press. And there Berisha, surrounded by bodyguards, backed off before speaking when the crowd surged forward. Socialist leader Rexhep Mejdani has laid the blame squarely on the regime. "The govemment supported the pyramids and the pyramids supported the government," he told a rally at a Tirana football stadium. The Socialists, the main heirs to the former ruling Albanian Party of Labour, have called on the government to resign.

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British News


Union breakthrough at GCHQ


LAST SATURDAY saw the pipe band of the General and Municipal Workers' union heading a march of over 6,000 trade unionists through the streets of Cheltenham. They were assembled not merely to listen to stirring tunes but to condemn the government for prohibiting employees at GCHQ -- the govemment's spy radio listening centre -- from belonging to trade unions. Thirteen years have passed since the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, issued his ban. But the campaigners have not given up the struggle. TUC president Tony Dubbins opened the rally by condemning the government for ignoring criticism of the ban by the International Labour Organisation. Local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones demanded ccompensation for the 14 workers sacked for refusing to quit their unions 13 years ago, and promised to put down a motion to overturn the ban on the first day of the new Parliament. TUC general secretary John Monks said that the ending of a 13-year injustice seems near. He pointed out that the 1,000 bribe offered to GCHQ workers was the going rate for a Tory MP to ask a question. But he reminded the audience that the election of a Labour government had not yet been achieved and that the re-election of the Tories would render the very idea that employees have rights as out of date. The Mayor of Cheltenham is another victim of the ban. The stress of the veto of trades unionists caused the early death of her husband. She also speculated on having to hock the mayoral chain of office as her employer, an NHS trust, is forbidding staff time off for council duties. Actions such as this are a serious attack on democracy. Labour employment spokesperson Peter Hain said the evil ban was crumbling. Ironically, Tory contracting out policies have allowed the GMB to represent workers formerly affected by the ban as unionised private firms are employing former civil servants. He pledged a Fair Employment Act in the first Queen's Speech under a Labour government. and urged support for the Halewood Ford workers, fighting drastic job cuts. Peter Hain, a long-standing and-apartheid activist reminded the rally that people in South Africa died for trade union rights and called on the movement not to forget the traditions of the labour movement. Labour's promise to introduce a national minimum wage got an airing. Hain cited a case in his Neath constituency of an advertisement for a security guard who was to be paid a mere 1.80 an hour -- and he had to supply his own dog.
better organisation
Better union organisation is the way to deal with such employers. John Sheldon of the PTC civil service union echoed the call for compensation and reinstatement for the 14 workers who were sacked for refusing to give up union membership. Finally Mike Grindley, leader of the GCHQ Trade Unions, called for a repeal of all Tory anti-trade union laws, not just those affecting GCHQ. To the casual observer Cheltenham, with its branches of Saville Row tailors and expensive antique shops, looks a prosperous place. But with 2,900 unemployed people (on official figures which grossly understate the real picture) the collection for the Cheltenham unemployed Centre was badly needed. It is to be hoped that the Department of National Heritage will slap a preservation order on Labour's pledge to lift the ban, as this is a very rare example of a long-standing promise which Tony Blair has not yet ditched. All trades unionists, especially those in the public sector, owe a great debt to the GCHQ sacked workers. It is thanks to their efforts that the government never dared extend the ban to other workers. THE GMB general union last membership. week announced a historical deal that restores union rights to some of the workers at GCHQ -- mainly engineering grades. The deal came about as a part of the work at GCHQ was "outsourced" (privatised) to the company Vosper Mantec six months ago. The company -- partly American-owned -- said it would prefer to deal with a trade union. The government mentioned the specially set up tame Staff Federation. But Vosper Mantec, fearing solidarity action from its American workers, wanted to deal with a "proper" trade union and nominated the GMB as its choice. After a series of meetings between staff and Vosper Mantec, the company granted recognition to 182 of the 192 transferred workers. Now, GCHQ workers at Cheltenham who were previously banned from joining a trade union continue doing exactly the same job as before, alongside workers in different grades who are still barred from trade union membership. The GMB deal covers mainly technicians and engineers who maintain the communications equipment, including satellite dishes. It is not exactly a no strike deal but GMB regional organiser Tony Berry told the New Worker: "There are an awful lot of hoops to jump through before there could be a strike." He insisted this was not a "sweetheart" deal, nor was it in breach of the spirit Bridlington. In the event of a dispute, both sides would be bound first of all to go to conciliation and then arbitration. This would only be binding if both sides agreed before it began. There are rumours that other parts of GCHQ will also be privatised, in which case the relevant civil service unions will be pushing very hard for their grades to be allowed union membership. Already the GCHQ Staff Federation is engaged in talks with the PTC civil service union, in the expectation of a Labour victory at the next election and a lifting of the ban.

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