The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 3rd September, 1999

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Editorial - Kicking and screaming. & The great failure.
Lead Story - Timorese vote for freedom.
Feature - Blair faces roasting at Brighton.
International - Buses embark for Cuba.
British News - Elderly losing out on benefits.

Editorial

Kicking and screaming

IF the sight of David Trimble on TV makes you wonder if the colour control is on the blink -- stop worrying, your set's OK. The Unionist leader really is red in the face these days as he displays to the British government and his supporters how very angry he is.

 Trimble and his Loyalist flock say they are angry with the British government for accepting that the IRA has not abandoned its ceasefire.

 Certainly this decision has displeased them. But it's being used as an excuse and is not the real cause of their spluttering fury. That stems from the dread among reactionary Loyalist elements that full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement will inevitably lead to the ending of Loyalist privilege.

 In this camp are those who cling to the unrealistic dream that the IRA can be brow-beaten into surrender while all the long-standing inequalities and injustices continue as before. They will ignore the wide support for the Good Friday Agreement among both Catholics and Protestants and will politically clutch at every straw, find every excuse, and look for every delay to avoid meeting the full terms of the Agreement.

 The present Unionist position boils down to demanding that peace is achieved -- with no incidents taking place at all -- before the peace process can be progressed. They pretend not to understand the obvious fact that the peace process has to come first and that peace cannot be won without all the parties sitting down together.

 They also completely ignore the violence still being committed by Loyalist gangs. Sinn Fein could justifiably raise objections to joining an Assembly that includes people linked to the perpetrators of Loyalist violence. They have not done this because such a boneheaded approach would undo the progress made so far and would give comfort to the most reactionary elements who don't want to talk in any case.

 Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam's acceptance that the IRA ceasefite still holds, has been met with a barrage of criticism from Unionists, Tories and their supporters in the capitalist media. Some make repeated calls for Blair to replace Mo Mowlam because they hope there is a division in the Cabinet that can be exploited.

 It is therefore important that Blair backs Mo Mowlem up and that he throws the full weight of the government behind the peace process.

The great failure

The great failure
 

LAST week we learned that Kvaerner engineering has axed thousands of jobs including many in Britain. And there is still a danger that the company's rigbuilding plant on Teeside could be closed in the coming months.

 While Kvaerner workers face unemployment and insecurity Britain's high paid company directors have been taking it in. A Labour Research report shows that average pay rises for this elite over the last financial year were 10.7 per cent -- well above the rate of inflation.

 And since these bosses already earn telephone number salaries these increases represent small fortunes.

 Yet these super-paid directors are still only the hirelings of the wealthy members of the capitalist class -- the riches of this group of parasites far exceeds the staggering pay of their top managers.

 The capitalist system works very well for this shower -- people who live off the super profits created working class and who lead lives of ease and beyond most people's wildest dreams.

 For the majority of the world's people capitalism is the great failure -- a system that rewards those who toil by hand and brain with subsistence wages and the worry of never knowing from day to day or year to year what lies in store.

 The rich are never short of lackeys willing to dream up arguments for keeping this failed system going. They claim the dictatorship of the rich is the highest form of democracy and that the gross inequalities are part of some natural order that cannot be changed.

 But change will come and the time for social change is long overdue. The parasites have bled us long enough. Our future lies with socialism and a society where the majority really do rule and where we can look forward with hope and optimism.

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Lead Story

Timorese vote for freedom

VIOLENCE has erupted in East Timor as pro-Indonesian gunmen make their final play to stop the people voting to end the enforced union with Indonesia.

 But the East Timorese have defied the violence and intimidation to turn-out in their droves for the former Portuguese colony's first free vote since Indonesia annexed it in 1975.

 And with a nearly hundred per cent turn-out from the 450,000 strong electorate the vote will almost certainly be heavily for independence.

 Three UN election workers have been killed by the militias which emerged this year after the new Indonesian government declared its readiness to allow the East Timorese to vote on their future.

 The island of Timor was divided by Dutch and Portuguese colonialism in 1859. Western Timor was part of the Dutch East Indies becoming part of Indonesia after liberation in 1949.

 In 1974 the Portuguese fascist regime was overthrown by an army-led revolution. The new government moved swiftly to end colonial rule in Africa and East Timor.

 On 28 November 1975 the Fretelin movement declared East Timor independent. The next day Indonesian strong-man General Suharto declared that his country would annex it.

 In December 1975 the Indonesian army over-ran the former Portuguese colony with the backing of the West. An estimated 200,000 East Timorese -- a quarter of the population -- died in the military crackdown and the famine that followed. But armed and civil resistance by the mainly Catholic population against Muslim Indonesian rule continued.

 In 1998 mass riots brought down the Suharto dictatorship and the interim government off B J Habibie took the first steps to ending the conflict This May a UN proposal for a ballot on the future of East Timor was agreed by all sides and exile leaders were allowed to return home.

 The poll began on Monday with people already lining up to cast their vote on whether to remain part of Indonesia as an autonomous region or go for full independence. Few, if any, were put off by the killings and attacks on the polling stations.

 Now, as the count goes on, the militia gangs are fanning out setting up road-blocks and trying to gain control of villages and towns in a last-ditch bid to frustrate the almost certain drive to full independence.

 Indonesian troops have been accused of backing the militias but the Indonesian government has pledged to honour the result of the referendum whatever the outcome.

 Results are expected next week and then it will have to be formally ratified by the 700-strong Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly in October.

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Feature

Blair faces roasting at Brighton

by Daphne Liddle

 PRIME Minister Tony Blair is due to address the annual conference of the TUC in two weeks at Brighton, having missed the event last year. And he is likely to face the harshest grilling he has had so far since Labour came to power in May 1997.

PFI

High on the agenda of complaints will be the government's use of private money to build public facilities through the Private Finance Initiative.

 The public sector union Unison is leading the battle against PFI. Thousands of its members face having their jobs transferred to the private sector under PFI schemes around the country, especially hospitals.

 And the experience of the Hillingdon Hospital cleaners is still sharp in every trade unionist's memory as to what can happen to wages, hours and conditions when jobs are transferred.

 The Unison motion against PFI says: "Public services are most efficiently and effectively delivered, and ensure best value for the community and for individuals, when they are provided by directly employed public service workers."

 Last year the new giant PCS civil service union saved the government's face by being the only major union to support PFI -- contrary to policy actually agreed at the PCS founding conference or that of the two unions, the CPSA and PTC. that merged to form PCS.

 This year feeling against PFI is running a lot stronger among civil servants after the fiascos of a number of giant PFI computer projects -- including the National Insurance Contributions Agency and the Passport Agency.

 The other main civil service union, the IPMS, has come out strongly against PFI with a motion that says: "Congress condemns these privatisation proposals and the threat of compulsory transferof thousands of public service staff to the private sector."

Hours

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers will also be addressing the TUC conference and is likely to come in for some very sharp attacks for his watering down of the maximum working hours regulations.

 The legislation was being passed through Parliament just before it broke up for the Summer recess and Mr Byers took this opportunity to amend it so that "voluntary" (unpaid) overtime was excluded for salaried managerial and professional workers.

 Now bosses do not even have to record how much "voluntary" overtime work is done. Legally bosses cannot force workers to do this but there are thousands of ways of exerting unofficial pressure.

 Already some bosses are expecting new recruits to sign forms volunteering to opt out of the working time limits. And it is the professional and managerial workers who are often under greatest pressure to work long hours.

 Bosses do not order them to work longer. But they cut staff back so that those who are left have a workload that just cannot be tackled within reasonable working hours.

 The workers are afraid to leave their load unfinished for fear of seeming incompetent and losing their jobs.

 TUC general secretary John Monks pointed out that there is also a gender aspect to this issue. He said: "Three in four long hours workers are men. How will women ever get on at work if they are expected to work more than 48 hours a week in a society that still expects them to take prime responsibility for child care?"

 He pointed out that the 48 hour limit gives a six-day week of eight hours a day -- more if it is reduced at other times to give an average of 48 hours. This surely must be enough hours to earn anyone a decent living for themselves and their family.

Post Office

 Mr Byers is also due to come under criticism for his plans to reduce the Post Office monopoly covering all letters up to £l to just 50p.

 This will open the door for private enterprise mail deliverers to cream off the lucrative commercial deliveries, leaving the Post Office with only the loss-making domestic and remote areas services.

 This will turn the Post Office from a commercial success, in which one part subsidises the other, to a loss making outfit, vulnerable to cutting or privatisation.

Privatisation

 The government will be strongly criticised for its plans to privatise air traffic control, the Royal Mint and the partial privatisation of the London Underground.

 The National Union of Journalists has put in a motion expressing concern at the watering down of the Freedom of Information Act -- though it is naive to imagine any bourgeois government granting real freedom of information.

 Single currency

 There will also be strong divisions over the European Single Currency -- especially as the dismal turn-out at last June's Euro-elections revealed public antipathy to the European Union.

 The campaign for the single currency is becoming ever more clearly linked to the interests of big business and trade unionists.

Public sector pay

 Unison is again making the front running on public sector pay which has slipped well behind private sector levels.

 Key sections of its health worker membership are already balloting for action after rejecting a three per cent offer.

 And the Fire Brigades Union will be looking for support in its coming battle with the government to defend national pay bargaining and a Home Office threat to outlaw strikes in vital services.

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International

Buses embark for Cuba

By Brenda Lee

ON THE afternoon of Monday 23 August, the Cuban ship Luric sailed up the Mersey to dock at Seaforth to pick up 600 tons of aid collected by unions involved in the Salud! project and local groups of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) as part of their annual container appeal.

 This was the fruit of a year's campaigning and several tense weeks of waiting for the ship to arrive.

 The original Cuban ship, the Lila, was supposed to arrive on or around 30 June and the Merseyside CSC had organised a celebration meeting and social for 1 July.

 But this had to be cancelled at two day's notice because the Lila was delayed in Poland where it was discharging a cargo.

 Eventually a few day's delay turned into a few weeks and the celebrations were re-arranged and cancelled again several times.

 Eventually we were told the Lila had had to abandon its trip to Britain because of severe delays.

 Meanwhile more aid for Cuba kept rolling in but where were we going to put it all?

 Finally we got news that the Luric was on its way to sighs of relief all round.

 The Salud! campaign had collected 15 buses, 17 ambulances, two fire engines, 140 hydraulic hospital beds, 250 tons of powdered milk and other medical items.

 The CSC container appeal had filled four containers and more. There were 800 computers and more medical items, educational materials, food and so on.

 The Merseyside CSC group donated three cars -- which were used to carry items that could not be fitted into the containers.

 The group had heard that the Cubans were looking for Lada cars and one member of the local group donated his own. Another was bought from funds and another CSC member's Ford Sierra was added.

materials crammed in

 This was crammed with items destined for the mining village of El Cobre, with mining helmets, educational materials and foodstuffs.

 On Tuesday 24 August the celebration was at last held, at the Liverpool Seamen's mission and the entire Luric crew of 26 attended.

 One of the crew was a woman. I asked her if there were any problems in the job. She replied that the hours were long and it meant being away from home, but the pay was good. So none of the problems we would have expected for a lone woman on a ship from Britain.

 The celebration and meeting was addressed by Phil Lenton of Salud! who spoke of the origins of this campaign -- a group of trade unionists from the northeast of England who had friends in Santiago de Cuba.

 They Learned that hospital workers in Santiago de Cuba had problems getting to and from work because of a lack of buses, so they set about getting some buses to solve the problem.

 The campaign was taken up by other trade unionists around Britain and snowballed from there -- in spite of discouragement from the head of the London Ambulance Service who had told the campaigners they were "pissing in the wind" if they hoped to send buses to Cuba.

 I spoke on behalf of the CSC explaining the political background to the campaigns, on what Cuba has done for its own people and internationally in working class solidarity.

 And I spoke about the illegal United States blockade which has tried in vain for the last 40 years to strangle Cuba's economy.

 I also stressed the importance of the two campaigns working together on this issue. CSC has always worked with the unions.

 But this year the Salud! campaign meant a whole ship booked to take stuff to Cuba. This meant we did not have to pay for our containers to be transported, saving £10,000.

 This saving was immediately spent on 10 tons of powdered milk. The co-operation has benefited both campaigns and the Cubans as well.

 On Wednesday 25 August, while the Luric was still being loaded, I arranged to take visitors and press and TV reporters into the docks to cover the story.

 That evening Granada Television local news showed the buses being hoisted onto the ship in a very positive report.

 And the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo next day gave the story full front-page coverage with pictures of the loading.

 On the Wednesday evening we attended a party on the ship and the crew were delighted with the TV coverage.

 Sadly the next day we had to say goodbye as the ship left for Cuba and we are now waiting for news of its arrival in Havana.

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British News

Elderly losing out on benefits

ELDERLY people who try to claim benefits are often daunted by the complex forms they have to fill in and give up, according to a report last week from the Citizens' Advice Bureau in Wales.

 The Welsh CAB cites 6,543 inquiries about council tax benefits which it dealt with last year and nearly 200 cases ended with successful claims averaging about £300.

 And the Institute of Fiscal Studies said as many as 55,000 people in Wales should claim this benefit but do not.

 Currently, claimants have to wade through a 135-page booklet to discover if they are entitled to the benefit.

 Tom Moran, speaking for the Wales Pensioners campaign group said he was not surprised to hear that a third of qualifying Welsh households did not claim.

 He said: "The problem with my generation is that we are so stiff-lipped about these things.

 "We are the generation that fought the last warand won, coming out of the war to build the national prosperity that followed the bankruptcy of war.

 "We worked for 50 years on this, including the building of the welfare state, and therefore we don't think it is right that we have to go on bended knee asking for charitable hand-outs. That is the crux of the matter.".

 He went on to say that some pensioners find it hard to endure claim procedures that involve revealing their personal and financial Lives to civil servants who are barely in their 20s.

 He suggested one solution would be to impose the council tax only on the obviously well-off.

 But the overall answer for pensioners in distress, he said, was a significant increase in the state pension from £66.75 to £150 a week.

 "If the government did this we would be able to pay our way just Like people in work and that is what we are campaigning for." said Mr Moran.

 "I talk to hundreds of people and have yet to meet anyone not willing to pay more income tax or National Insurance contributions provided it goes towards better pensions.

 "That is because all sensible people know that at some stage they themselves are going to be pensioners. If we get the pension right for the current generation of pensioners, we have it right for the future generations."

  A recent report from actuaries Lane Clark and Peacock indicates that some of Britain's biggest company pension schemes could be at risk of insolvency if there is a stock market set-back, because of the way they have reacted to tax changes.

 The problems could come as the result of rejigging their forecasts about future investment returns in an attempt to neutralise changes in corporation taxes announced by the government in 1997.

 The actuaries cite two big companies, Astra Zeneca (drugs) and Vodafone, which appear to be under-funded. That is they do not seem to have enough to pay all the pension benefits that members have earned.

 These two companies employ around 46,000 staff between them. The company will have to pump in millions of pounds in contributions to remedy the shortfalls.

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