The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 3rd April, 1998

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Editorial - The wages lie.
Lead Story - Labour must quit stalling.
Feature - Warders suspended in Scrubs torture enquiry.
International - Middle East peace talks fail.
British News -Workfare extended.


 The wages lie.

 FOR a party that goes on and on about being "new" the Labour front bench have some pretty old ideas. Last week Chancellor Gordon Brown made yet another call for wage restraint to allow the inflation target to be met.

 It seems the hoary old myth -- that inflation is caused by "greedy" workers asking for more -- is not too outdated an idea for the trendy inmates of Millbank Tower to peddle.

 Our objection to this myth is not that we have heard it all before many times, but that it is, and always was, a false argument -- a big lie.

 Inflation is not caused by workers winning decent wages but by the relentless drive for ever-rising private profits and the contradictions and crises that are part and parcel of the capitalist system itself.

 If the "wages-cause-inflation" myth were true the developing countries (where wage levels are so low that the peoples exist in desperate poverty) would have low and stable inflation rates and flourishing economies. We know that this is not so -- the poverty of millions in the developing world and the low wages that are paid does not stop inflation rising and it does not make those countries economically strong.

 In the past few weeks we have seen pictures on our TV screens of desperate Indonesians trying to escape their poverty by fleeing to Malaysia and being returned by the Malaysian authorities. The Malay government argues that they have enough problems of poverty of their own.

 Both these countries are in serious economic difficulty -- but it is patently obvious that this state of affairs has not been brought about by high wages and it is not the fault of workers in either country.

 In fact, if workers had higher incomes they would be able to buy more of the goods they produce and which they need. That would boost the markets and ease the crisis of over production that currently afflicts the capitalist world.

 But capitalists the world over, though they want to sell more goods, strongly resist paying higher wages and hope to overcome the problem they face -- of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall -- by cutting labour costs, including the wages bill.

 No wonder capitalist societies lurch from one crisis to another and are never able to resolve problems beyond the short term or prevent the system from suffering its relentless cycle of booms and slumps.

 This apparent stupidity is not at all stupid for the major players -- the owners and shareholders of the giant transnational companies, big banks and monopolies -- who do exceedingly well.

 When times are bad for most people -- when recession bites and when markets tumble - the premier league of capitalists seize the opportunity to buy out smaller firms and some of their rivals, leaving them even bigger, richer and more powerful than ever.

 Even when the rivalries and instabilities of capitalism lead to war and people endure untold misery still the wealthy line their pockets -- investment goes into the means of making war and huge profits are made from the carnage. When the guns and bombs fall silent there are more profits to be made from the reconstruction of all that has been destroyed.

 Our struggle is to fundamentally change society, to bring the system of capitalism to an end and build a socialist society in its place. Only then will there be a chance for peace, only then will exploitation be halted and people's needs be put first.

 But while capitalism still exists the class struggle will be fought every day. The battle for decent wages, good working conditions and shorter working hours is right on the frontline.

 Our message to Gordon Brown is to take his calls for restraint to the parasite class -- make the rich pay for a change and stop blaming the poor for their oppressors' crimes.

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Lead Story

Labour must quit stalling.

by Daphne Liddle
THE LABOUR government is dragging its heels over the publication of its White Paper on trade union rights -and even the few election promises it made are getting more and more diluted as time goes on.

 For example, the European working time directive is supposed to protect workers from being forced to work longer than 48 hours a week.

 But there are so many exceptions to the rule that millions of workers will be unprotected.

 Then last week the government said it will include a clause that will allow longer hours in any workplace if it is voluntarily agreed between worker and employer.

 This may seems fair but as many trade union leaders have pointed out, employers have ways of making employees come to "voluntary" agreements, especially where there is no strong trade union presence to support the workers.

 Pressure can be put in all sorts of ways, including get-out clauses in employment contracts before a worker is even given a job.

And the unemployed are now under extreme pressure to sign any work contract even those that waive their statutory rights to holiday and sick pay, just to get them off the Job Seekers' Allowance.

 This makes the statutory protection virtually worthless.

 Workers who do not co-operate with "voluntary" agreements can be penalised under all sorts of ways thatget round the law -by denial of promotion prospects and by the unspoken knowledge that come a recession, they could be top of the redundancy list.

 Those most at risk, as always, will be the workers who are not in trade unions, those working for small firms on short-term contracts, part-timers, young workers, women workers and so on.

 But the government is also betraying these workers on another front.

 The much-awaited promise to make bosses recognise trade union representation where more than half the workforce want if is also being diluted.

 Now small firms employing fewer than 50 workers are to be excluded from this provision. This will be a slap in the face to workers in small sweated labour firms like the Hillingdon Hospital strikers.

 It would also affect the Critchley strikers where 31 workers were sacked by Critchley Label Technology because they went on strike after the firm derecognised their union -- the Communication Workers' Union -- when it asked to be consulted about staffing.

 The government has also refused to agree to the TUC demand that a simple majority in a ballot of workers is enough to force union recognition.

 The Labour leaders have agreed to the bosses' demand that it must be a majority of all those eligible to vote.

 TUC general secretary John Monks explained how illogical the system could be: "Where there are 1,000 employees with a minimum turn-out of 40 per cent, if the union secured 350 votes in favour of recognition and 20 against the union would lose its claim.

 "If in the same size workforce there were 350 votes for and 200 against the union would win. This is illogical and a significant weakness in these proposals."

 The European Court of Human Rights has been stepping up the pressure on the Labour government to repeal legislation introduced by the Tories which allows bosses to discriminate against trade union member in pay and conditions.

 This call came after two cases were taken to the court after the House of Lords had ruled in favour of the bosses -- the Daily Mail and Associated British Ports.

 Both these employers had withheld increases from some employees after they had refused to sign "personal contracts" renouncing their trade union rights. The unions involved, the National Union of Journalists and the RMT transport union, successfully claimed that this amounted to penalising workers for union membership and contravened union and freedom of association rights under the Human Rights Convention.

 And the International Labour Organisation has added its weight to this pressure to repeal anti-union laws which infringe workers' rights.

 The White Paper, Fair Play at Work, is already overdue but is expected to be published later this month.

John Monks says he remains optimistic about it and he and other union leaders are continuing to pressure the government in talks.

 He is reminding the government of the 5,000 calls to the recent TUC hotline about bad bosses.

 The TUC and the union leaders, instead of spending time huddled in meetings with the government and leaders of industry, should be organising a mass campaign, building to the kind of industrial action that Tony Blair will be forced to listen to.

 In the final analysis, laws are only so much use on their own, and John Monks seems to have recognised this, saying: "The message is loud and clear. People do notjust need laws to protect them at work but they need to be able to call on the assistance of a trade union to enforce their rights."

 Monks needs to realise that the unions cannot give workers the necessary full backing and support while they continue to abide by Tory anti-union laws.

 This is a battle for the whole labour movement- not just the leaders.

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Warders suspended in Scrubs torture enquiry.
by Caroline Colebrook
 EIGHT prison officers and one senior manager at Wormwood Scrubs prison, west London, were suspended on full pay from their duties last Tuesday as a police inquiry into allegaLions ofbeatings and torture at the jail began.

 The allegations were first made at the end of last year by a prisoner who wrote to the Prison Reform Trust (PRT), chaired by former Tory Home Secretary Lord Hurd.

 He said he had been subjected to beatings and had suffered serious injuries after his head had been stamped on and bashed against a wall. He gave a detailed list of his specific injuries.

 The trust made some initial inquiries but got nowhere. So they put the matter in the hands of the law firm Hickman Rose to investigate further.

 PRT deputy director Nick Flynn said: "There appears to have been a conspiracy of silence," and he welcomed the setting up of the inquiry so quickly.

 And later, Daniel Machover of Hickman Rose said: "We are absolutely shocked. A very reliable source has said that things are out of control. There are allegations of widespread assault on more than 10 prisoners."

 He added that in one case the allegations amounted to torture and said: "We think we have reached the tip of an iceberg".

 A high proportion of the prisoners who say they have been attacked are black. One is said to be a sex offender.

 The law firm passed a dossier of several cases to Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons who then referred it to Home Secretary Jack Straw.

 The Prison Officers' Association says it will co-operate fully with the inquiry but is trying to play the matter down.

 Sir David Ramsbotham said that in his report last year for the Prison Inspectorate he had been surprised and horrified by conditions at Wormwood Scrubs, which accommodates 1,400 prisoners.

 He said: "Outdated staff attitudes appeared to resist change at every turn. "Wormwood Scrubs is often referred to as the 'flagship' of the Prison Service. It could be said that the ship is now dead in the water and has been overtaken by other ships in the line."

 The prison governor has been replaced by Stephen Moore, who faces the task of sorting out the prison.

 Daniel Machover now says that around 20 prisoners have made allegations and that the names of 12 officers have come up again and again in their claims. He says all of these officers should have been suspended.

 The prison service admits there are at least five serious cases to be answered.

 Meanwhile seven prison officers at a the privately-run Blakenhurst prison near Redditch in Worcestershire have also been suspended on full pay after an inquest jury ruled that a young black remand prisoner was unlawfully killed.

 Alton Manning died in the prison in December 1995 after being restrained in a neck lock. He was the third black man to die in such circumstances in prison in three months.

 He was held face down in a hold that contravened prison service regulations.

 Now the Crown Prosecution Service has to decide whether to bring charges against the officers. But both the CPS and the prison service seem reluctant to take this vital step.

 Prison service deputy director Tony Pearson said: "I am determined to ensure that the full facts of this case have been learned and appropriate action taken."

 But a prison service spokesperson said that a full investigation into the incident was not considered necessary and added that a second contract with UKDS -- the firm that run Blakenhurst -- for a prison in Salford, has not been affected by the case.

 And Richard Till, the director general of the prison service, compounded matters when he made the extraordinary claim that physiological differences meant that black people are more likely to die from asphyxiation when restrained by warders than white prisoners.

 He was speaking on a BBC Two Newsnight programme and had been asked why six of the seven prisoners who have died since 1992 of suffocation while being restrained were black. The seventh was of mixed race.

 Mr Tilt made the amazing claim that prison research had shown: "Afro-Caribbean people are more likely to surfer positional asphyxia than whites. That's the evidence that seems to be emerging not just in this country but other countries as well."

 His remarks prompted an outcry from anti-racist groups, who have suggested that what the evidence is showing is that black pnsoners are more likely to be the victims of lethal assaults from racist warders.

 Labour MP for Tottenham Bernie Grant has asked to see this evidence and Maxie Hayles, the organiser of the Alton Manning Justice Campaign called for Richard Tilt to resign.

 Home Office pathologist Nat Carey, who is conducting research into positional asphyxia, said the prison service is "hiding behind its own research which I suspect has no substance".

 Richard Tilt has since backtracked a little and apologised for any "offence" caused by his remark.

 The inquest jury reached their verdict after hearing that Alton Carey had died after six warders carried him horizontally for 40 yards while a seventh held his neck in a vice-lock grip between his forearms, until blood gushed from Mr Manning's mouth.

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Middle East peace talks fail.

by our Middle East Affairs correspondant

 AMERICAN efforts to revive the Middle East peace talks have failed and US special envoy Dennis Ross has left the region empty-handed.

 Back in Washington US Secretary of State claimed there had been 'some progress" in breaking the stalemate, in contrast to earlier comments from her office which said they were now in "dire straits".

 The stumbling block, as usual, is Israel's refusal to make any further substantial withdrawals from the West Bank and unless Washington decides to go into serious arm-twisting, the current government in Tel Aviv isn't going to budge.

 Israeli premier Benyamin Netanyahu's hard-line government rejected out of hand American proposals fora further 13 per cent pull-back in the West Bank. They countered with a half-hearted 9 per cent offer which was unacceptable to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arabs.

 Netanyahu has also offered to pull-out of southern Lebanon -mainly due to the fact that his army is getting a hammering from the resistance. But this was dismissed by Lebanon and Syria as a diversion and their leaders are now moving for a mini-Arab summit, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the Palestinians, to prepare for the next moves.

 In Israel the opposition Labour Party is calling for parliament's recall to debate the worsening situation in the peace process and the full-blown crisis with Washington.

 Labour,leaders, eager to rally the peace vote, denounced Netanyahu's Likud bloc for destroying the peace effort and the strategic relationship with America, which is Israel's protector.

 In the West Bank Palestinian anger is rising in frustration at the continued occupation and theft of Arab land by the Netanyahu administration. Ceaked Israeli plans for what they call "Greater Jerusalem" show a Jerusalem region covering almost half of the entire West Bank, or five times the Gaza Strip, under perpetual Israeli rule.

 Provocative Zionist settlements continue to be expanded and violent clashes between Palestinians and the occupation forces are becoming more and more frequent.

 The American problem is the one that has bedevilied the whole peace process. Washington has the power to easily force Israel to accept whatever they want them to accept. But to exercise that power -- which was done in 1956 to force Israel out of Egypt during the Suez crisis -- would mean the Americans directly negotiating with the Arabs, which they don't want to do.

 If they Americans showed their hand by revealing their own map for a "final settlement" -- which they have never done -- it would not meet Arab hopes and it would almost certainly lead to a real crisis with the Israeli ruling class. The Americans would face Arab anger while alienating their willing tools in Tel Aviv and Washington puts the strategic benefits of the American-Israeli axis far above mollifying Arab sentiment.

 Though the Americans have done little to mask their displeasure at Netanyahu's refusal to play ball the Arabs know that Washington will not go beyond pious phrases unless substantial pressure is put upon them.

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British News

Workfare extended.
THE GOVERNMENT last week extended the numbers of young unemployed people to be compelled to take low-paid work or face benefit cuts to include the childless spouses of those seeking work.

 Social Security Secretary Harriet Harman said all those under 25 would be included in the "welfare-to-work New Deal".

 Where a young couple are both unemployed they will both be required to take a subsidised job, voluntary sector placement, further education or a place on an environmental task force.

 This amounts to a plain admission that the wages from these compulsory jobs are not expected to be high enough to keep a couple, never mind a family.

 The measure was announced at the same time as new moves "to help the disabled back to work".

 It results from a suggestion made by Martin Taylor, chief executive of Barclays Bank, in his report to the government on work incentives.

 He recommended that both partners in childless couples claiming Job Seekers' Allowance should be required to present themselves for work.

 It will discourage young people from marrying because their benefit will be higher if they claim separately than as a couple.

 Ms Harman is describing this as an important new equal opportunities measure, as though it is giving young couples more choice, when it is giving them less. She described it as "tough love"

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