The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 31th August 2001

Workers of all countries, unite!


Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition

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Editorial - Late harvest.
Lead Story - NHS staff crisis grows.
Feature - Treasury row over cost of rail safety.
International - Arab fury at Palestinian leader's murder.
British News - Livingstone plan for enquiry into custody deaths.
More news and Diary

Editorial

Late harvest

NATO'S weapon collecting operation, "Essential Harvest", is underway in Macedonia with a stated aim of collecting 3,300 weapons from the rebel Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) -- a target figure the Macedonian government thinks is far too low.

 Whatever the true size of the NLA's arsenal, it can certainly be said that the Nato mission has been high media profile while at the same time given a bearing all the hallmarks of a cosmetic excercise to justify the sending of Nato troops to yet another area of the Balkans.

 The whole operation exposes Nato's long-standing strategy in the Balkans. Why, for instance, did Nato leave its "harvest" of guns so late? Why did it not try to disarm, or even condemn, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) when it sought to detach Kosovo from the Yugoslav Federation? And why did it send its bombers to Belgrade instead?

 Surely this was because the major capitalist powers wanted Kosovo to be detached as part of the policy to break-up Yugoslavia. The Kosovan Albanians, like the Bosnian Muslims and right-wing nationalist Croats before them, were quietly encouraged and helped to Pursue their own separatist aims insofar as they coincided with the strategy of the West.

 Then comes the question, why were the Serbs and Milosevich in particular, treated as enemies of Nato -- monsters even -- when the Yugoslav government, like the government of Macedonia, was only seeking to defend the unity and sovereignty of the country?

 The reason is that Milosevich, his party, government and the Yugoslav Army were the greatest obstacle to western capital's political, economic and strategic aims in the region. And though that regime was certainly not communist, it did retain a state sector in its economy (which it was unwilling to privatise for the benefit of foreign investors) and it was resistant to becoming just another east European plum in the imperialist's basket.

 Imperialism has not finished with the Balkans yet. It is not content with having assisted the creation ofthe breakaway states of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. It wants the once strong military power of Yugoslavia (largely centred on Serbia) to be a thing of the past. It wants no doors to be closed to western business interests and it wants to weaken the remaining links between Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia.

 Even though the new government in Belgrade is compliant to the West it has been written out of the script in operation essential harvest. Nato has landed in Macedonia, the Kosovan Force (KFOR) is in Kosovo and the western governments couldn't care less what anyone thinks in Belgrade.

 In fact this too is a calculated measure designed to close the lid on the once sovereign state of Yugoslavia -- a country which played an important role In the Non-Aligned Movement and was a stout defender of world peace.

 Nato has no such proud record. It does not serve anyone apart from the big business interests that created it. In the Balkans it has no friends -- only victims.

 Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and Kosovo, though they are motivated by their own grievances and aspirations, are blatantly used by imperialism. They provide convenient cover to disguise the West's own interests and when it comes to fighting they are more likely to be killed than troops from the western countries that supply them with arms and money.

 In the West, Kosovans, Albanians Bosnians are one minute on our TV screens portrayed as either brave freedom fighters or tragic victims of supposed "ethnic cleansing". The next minute they are being reviled as "illegal" immigrants and "bogus asylum seekers". Even in this, imperialism reveals its anti-human barbarism -- a system that spits upon those whose very lives it squanders in its endless quest for profits.

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Lead Story

NHS staff crisis grows

by Daphne Liddle

THE GOVERNMENT last week gave permission to NHS health authorities and primary care trusts to send patients to hospitals in Europe in yet another desperate effort to reduce waiting lists.

  Health Secretary Alan Milburn scrapped regulations blocking treatment overseas after a ruling last month in the European Court of Justice that patients facing "undue delay" in their home countries could seek treatment elsewhere in the European Union.

  Health Service lawyers say is will affect only a handful of patients who have been waiting longer than the Government's maximum waiting time of 18 months.

  This is a very poor deal for patients. They must either wait a very long time for their treatments or they must travel, while ill, to hospitals hundreds of miles away, where friends and family cannot visit, to be treated by medical staff who do not speak their language. Imagine having to call for an interpreter every time you need a bedpan.

  This is one of several increasingly desperate measures this Government is taking to reduce hospital waiting times. The only measure it will not contemplate is increasing the pay of NHS staff.

  The Government promises made just a year ago to revitalise the National Health Service in England by 2004 by training an extra 7,500 consultants and 2,000 more general practitioners along with thousands more nurses now seem a remote dream as the Government is already scouring the globe to recruit foreign doctors and nurses.

  Advertisements will be posted across the world, targeting senior doctors in Europe, Australia, Canada and parts of Asia.

  The Department of Heath has declared: "The biggest constraint the NHS faces today is no longer a shortage on financial resources. It is a shortage of human resources - we will recruit from other developed nations where there are surpluses of trained doctors."

  If this is so then it would make sense to use the apparently abundant finances to raise the pay and conditions of nurses and junior doctors. This would be the most obvious way to relieve the shortage of human resources.

  DoH medical adviser Steve Atherton said: "It takes at least six years to train a doctor. In the interim, it makes sense to see if we can attract senior doctors from outside the UK."

  The British Medical Association has given a cautious welcome to the plan but has warned it may not be easy to persuade European doctors to come and work in British conditions.

  Recruiting from outside the European Union has been falling or some years, from 432 in 1998-99 to 252 in 2000-01.

  BMA conference chairperson George Rae said: "It is far better to have overseas colleagues joining us than be sending our patients abroad for treatment."

  But he warned that many may be put off by bad publicity about the stressful working conditions in Britain: "Many of our European colleagues find the pace at which we work quite mind boggling."

  On the nursing front the problem for the NHS is to stem the tide of nurses trained here leaving for far better pay and conditions elsewhere in the world.

  Figures due to be released next month will show a record number of nurses emigrated last year. It is estimated that around 5,500 nurses left to work overseas and this is seriously damaging the Government's campaign to recruit more nurses or persuade those who have left the profession to return.

  But it will take more than just a few advertisements when hundreds, if not thousands, of nurses are finding it impossible to get a home on their current pay levels.

  Morale among NHS nurses is at rock bottom according to recent surveys and in the last year three quarters have considered leaving.

  Now the Government is conducting recruiting campaigns in the world's poorest countries to try to fill the gaps.

  Last year Britain imported 8,500 nurses from countries like India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Recruiting from other developed nations like Australia and Canada is dropping dramatically as horror stories about NHS pay and conditions are relayed.

  And the shortages are making the situation worse, for those nurses who remain and especially for the patients.

  A recent survey published in the London Evening Standard shows that London hospitals have a total of 526 intensive care nursing vacancies nearly 20 per cent of the number of posts.

 Last Tuesday an elderly patient died after waiting nine hours on a trolley in the accidents and emergency unit of Whipps Cross Hospital, east London, without treatment for the condition that had brought him to the hospital. He had been assessed as "medium priority".

 At Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust 28 intensive care posts out of 64 are unfilled -- 44 per cent of the total.

  This trust is in very serious trouble according to an independent report published last week which showed the two hospitals it covers are in a "spiral of decline".

 The report was published by the Commission for Health Improvement and reveals:

 * high death rates, especially after emergency surgery;

 * patients discharged from critical units prematurely due to lack of nurses and beds;

 * trolley waits in accident and emergency units of up to 20 hours;
  severe nursing shortages leading to a reliance on agency nurses;

 * poor management;

 * patients' complaints taking over three years to be resolved.

 * cleanliness "seriously compromised" -- some wards smelt of urine.

 The trust's chief executive. Nigel Sewell, agreed to step down before the publication of the report.

 Creoff Martin, who heads the pressure group London Health Emergency and is the London convener for the public service union Unison said: "The report confirms that St Helier is a hospital in crisis -- locked in a spiral of decline with devastating consequences for patient care."

  The answer to the crisis is simple and obvious. Better pay and conditions for nurses and junior doctors. We don't need to be brain surgeons or rocket scientists to work that one out.

 The reason why this doesn't happen is because global capitalism -- finance imperialism -- is greedy and waants the money to go in PFI profits first and health workers and patients only to get the crumbs that are left over.

 And as the coming economic recession starts to bite, as the capitalists fail to make the profits they want elsewhere, they will set out to plunder the public sector even more.

  The big unions know this and are preparing for a fight. We must all be part of that fight.

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Feature

Treasury row over cost of rail safety

by Caroline Colebrook

GOVERNMENT promises to fit the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) safety system to vital sections of the rail network by 2010 are at risk after a dispute between Transport Secretary Stephen Byers and Chancellor Gordon Brown over how the £2 billion system will be funded.

  The dispute comes just days before the release of a report into the costs and timetable for the project and there are fears it could be scrapped or indefinitely postponed.

  The less expensive and less effective Train Protection System is already being fitted across the whole rail network at a cost of £500 million.

 This will prevent a train going through a red light if the train is travelling at less than 70 miles an hour. Above that speed, only the more expensive ATP could stop it.

 The rail unions have consistently campaigned for ATP. TPS would not have prevented the 1997 Southall rail disaster.

  ATP was recommended back in 1988 after the Clapham rail disaster, in which 35 people died, and before the privatisation of the railways. It was post poned then because of costs. Since then the costs have spiralled and the privatised rail companies, both Railtrack and the train operating companies, do not want to foot the bill.

 After the Ladbroke Grove rail disaster the then Transport Secretary John Prescott promised ATP would be fitted. But a few months later the Government back-tracked, again because no one wanted to foot the bill.

funded

  Last year the Government agreed a plan, jointly funded by the privatised companies and the tax-payers, that TPS should be fitted throughout the network within two years and that ATP should be fitted to key mainline sections of track by 2010.

  Now it seems that once again, ATP may be shelved. Government experts have claimed that ATP would save, on average, only one life a year.

  A Whitehall spokesperson said: "The Transport Department is at loggerheads with the Treasury over the cost of Automated Train Protection. Gordon Brown is refusing to give Stephen Byers any more money to pay for the extra costs.

 "The system is supposed to cost £2 billion but everyone knows these sort of projects spiral out of control. The Chancellor doesn't want to write a blank cheque for the industry."

 This is not surprising. Given Railtrack's record, it would just regard the extra money as another pot of gold to be filtered through to shareholders and in 10 years time it would still be demanding more money to complete the project.

  Sir Alastair Morton, who chairs the Strategic Rail Authority, has called on the Government to pay up to £10 billion more into the rail network in addition to the £29 billion already promised as the public share of the costs of the overall 1O-year improvement plan.

  The Treasury responded: "The Treasury view is: 'The railway industry is privatised, how come we are spending more on it than before it was privatised?"'

  The answer is obvious. The tax-payers and fare paying passengers are now required not only to cover the costs of the railway but also the enormous share dividends of the rail companies.

  The Treasury has made plain the case for renationalisation.

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International

Arab fury at Palestinian leader's murder

by Our Middle East Affairs correspondent

PALESTINIAN ARABS have vowed to pay Israel back in kind for the murder of the leader of one of the progressive Palestinian resistance movements on Monday.

 Gun battles are raging on the outskirts of Jerusalem and Gaza between Palestinian fighters and Israeli armoured units, which have taken up positions inside the Palestinian autonomous areas. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has held telephone talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in efforts to end the fighting but reports that Israel Radio is broadcasting martial music suggest that the Sharon government is preparing the Israeli public for even more violence.

 Israeli tanks and bulldozers have moved into a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip -- part of an operation designed to try and cut off Gaza City -- while Israeli troops battle to control the West Bank town of Belt Jala on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

 Abu Ali Mustafa, the 64 year-old leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was killed at his desk last Monday when an Israeli helicopter gun-ship fired two missiles into his Ramallah office. The PFLP leader, who had returned to the Palestinian zones in 1999, was an unarmed civilian.

 While gloating Israeli spokesmen claimed that Abu Ali Mustafa was responsible for a series of recent car-bomb attacks in Israel most believe the killing -- ordered by General Sharon -- was a response to a Palestinian commando attack on an Israeli army camp inside the Gaza Strip last Saturday.

 Three Israelis were killed -- ineluding the deputy battalion commander -- and seven more wounded in the raid by aa unit of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Two DFLP commandos fell in the battle.

 Israel's rabid act of state terror has been condemned all round the world forcing even the Americans to send a mild rebuke to Tel Aviv.

 Foreign Minister Jack Straw was slightly more forthright on Tuesday. In the first official British criticism of Israel since the Palestinian uprising began eleven months ago he said: "I am deeply concerned by the escalation in violence in the occupied territories and condemn the incursion by Israeli Defence Forces into Belt Jala. Israel should withdraw its forces immediately".

 "The use of fighter aircraft in residential areas, the destruction of Palestinian Authority security buildings by missiles and assassinations of Palestinians can form no part of a meaningful strategy aimed at achieving peace and security," he added.

 Straw said that the recommendations ofthe Mitchell Committee "offer the best way out of the current crisis" and that "all elements must be implemented".

 "In this context I call on Israel particularly to institute a freeze on all settlement activity, including the 'natural growth' of existing settlements," Straw declared.

 People's China strongly condemned the assassination ofthe PFLP leader. In Beijing a Foreign Ministry official expressed China's profound regret and grief at Abu Ali Mustafa's death. He said that China always opposes any form of terrorism, Israel's policy of tracking and killing militants and its continual assassinations of Palestinian leaders.
People's China hopes that the Israeli and Palestinian sides will actively co-operate with the efforts of the international community and avoid unilateral actions so as to create an appropriate atmosphere for ending Israeli-Palestinian conflicts as soon as possible and resuming peace talks.

 Inside Israel there is growing fear that all-out war is imminent. The Peace Now movement along with Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) have been picketing the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. Four Israeli soldiers are already in jail for refusing to serve in the occupied territories. Many others -- conscripts, reservists and school students facing conscription -- have said they will do the same.

 This was echoed by Palestinian minister Saeb Erekat who warned that a new phase of the conflict had begun.

 "This is crossing all red lines. Sharon is inviting hell to break loose," Erekat said.

 "I believe Sharon's end-game is to widen the cycle of violence and destroy the peace process. This is a new stage in Israel's war against the Palestinians. First they destroy the infrastructure and now they kill Palestinian leaders".

 At least 551 Arabs and 153 Israelis have been killed in the eleven months of the intifada.

 * Iraqi air defences downed an American drone this week. The unmanned US spy-plane was shot down in southern Iraq and the wreckage has been shown on Iraqi television. It is believed to be a RQ-IB Predator a pilotless reconnaissance plane that costs $3.2 million. The US military have admitted that one of their spy-planes is missing.

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British News

Livingstone plan for enquiry into custody deaths

LONDON Mayor Ken Livingstone is planning a mayoral commission into deaths in police custody after complaints from activists over many such deaths.

  The plans represent Ken Livingstone's first significant involvement in policing policy and have sparked opposition from members of the London Assembly and from the Metropolitan Police Federation.

  The federation has said it will not co-operate with the inquiry because "there is already so much work already being undertaken on this subject" and "many of these cases have gone before the courts".

  Between 1969 and 1999, 1,000 people died in police custody, prisons and secure psychiatric hospitals. Many of these of course will have been due to illness, suicide or genuine accident.

  But in hundreds of cases, families have received no satisfactory account of how their loved ones died.

  There has been a procession of cases through the courts: Wayne Douglas, Brian Douglas, Shiji Lapite, Roger SylveSter and others. In some cases the courts have found the deaths were unlawful killings.

  But not one death has ever been followed up with the successful prosecution of a police officer. There is no proper deterrent to prevent police officers believing they are above the law and can literally get away with murder.

  Currently the Police Federation is demanding cuts to a documentary made over six years by the United Friends and Families campaign about deaths in police custody after the film-makers decided to identify police officers believed by relatives to be responsible for deaths in custody.

  The federation has intimidated many cinemas and other venues from allowing the film to be shown with threats of very expensive libel suits.

  An independent inquiry into the whole issue would be a big step towards obtaining some measure of justice for the bereaved families.

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