The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 4th December, 1998

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Editorial - A fearful New Year. & Painting cracks again.
Lead Story - Rover boss quits.
Feature - Southall rail crash: GWR faces manslaughter charges.
International - New threat to Kurdish leader.
British News - New wave of job losses.


A fearful New Year

THE looming recession is no longer just looming -- it is already a reality for many families whose Christmas has been blighted by unemployment -- many thousands of jobs have gone in every sector of the economy.

 The situation is expected to get worse in the New Year as more redundancies follow the rising tide of business mergers and closures.

 And the very fear this brings is exploited by the capitalist class to squeeze even more from the labour force. Workers are put under pressure to accept wage freezes and cuts on the grounds that British goods must be made to compete with those in countries where wages are even lower.

 The advocates of this argument do not explain why the rock-bottom wages in the third world have failed to save the people in those countries from shockingly high levels of unemployment. Nor do they say how the produced goods can be be bought if everyone is only earning enough to scrape by.

 Some apologists for capitalism try to divert us into blaming the problems on foreigners. They argue that Britain should use protectionist methods and keep imports down by imposing high duties on goods coming in to the country.

 This will not solve capitalism's crisis of overproduction which is at the root of the recession. It will only inflict even worse suffering on other workers abroad. If their wages and conditions are further hit, the pressure on British workers to follow suit will be even greater.

 High unemployment is always secretly welcomed by the major capitalists because it provides them with a stick to beat us. With hardly a word spoken, the boss knows the fear of the dole will itself keep wages low, conditions poor and the profits up.

 But if and when it suits that boss to up sticks in some profitable merger or lucrative sale, the hard work, sacrifice and loyalty of the staff will count for nothing.

 As individuals we are easy prey to the fears of job insecurity in these hard times. Standing together our strength is multiplied and our ability to defend our interests is much greater. We need the strength of belonging to a trade union and we need to play an active part in that trade union.

 And above all if we are to bring to an end once and for all the recurring nightmare of unemployment, hardship and worrying about the future, we have to bring down the outdated system of capitalism and replace it with socialism.

Painting cracks again
PAINTING over the cracks has become a Blair government hallmark. Instead of dealing with problems properly, which means coughing up the necessary cash, one government minister after another dashes out with the paint and brushes.

 Last week it was health minister Frank Dobson's turn. He announced new measures to protect people in residential care from various forms of abuse and neglect.

 Of course it is quite right for children, vulnerable adults and the elderly to be guaranteed protection and we all want to see an end to the kind of scandals involving children in care which have been uncovered in recent years.

 But even as Frank Dobson spoke, care homes for the elderly in towns and cities up and down the country were being put up for sale to the private sector, Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals were creeping along the corridors of our Town Halls and social services departments were carrying on the struggle against year-upon-year under-funding.

 We have already seen with the existing privatisations that regulation is no substitute for public ownership and control -- fat profits quickly take on a powerful voice.

 Local authorities need a lot more than inspectors. They need without-strings money to relieve the stress in social services departments caused by too few staff trying to cope with too much work.

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Lead Story

Rover boss quits

by Daphne Liddle
 THE GERMAN chairperson of the Rover motor company resigned dramatically last Wednesday as the parent company, BMW, unveiled a new £2 billion investment package.

 Waiter Hasselkus said he had underestimated the ferocity of competition in the British car market and had not brought in changes in working practices soon enough.

 The investment package is tied to the workforce accepting job cuts of up to 3,000 and drastic changes in working conditions.

 Rover workers are voting this week on whether to accept the miserable terms. Thousands of them are due to be bussed to a special meeting on Thursday 3 December where BMW managers will explain the deal.

 If they turn it down, the company will close the Longbridge plant.

 BMW has agreed to invest up to £2 billion to completely rebuild Longbridge and prepare it for production of the new mini and new medium-sized car.

 They want £200 million of this to come from government subsidy and Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson has hinted this will materialise.

 BMW managers have already complained that government grants given to rival firms Ford and Vauxhall have given them an unfair advantage in the market.

 But the workers will also pay a heavy price. The job cuts and introduction of "flexible" working throughout Rover's plants in Britain are aimed to save the company £150 million a year. Currently the company's losses are running at £500 million for this year.

 Shop stewards are meeting as we go to press and they are not happy with the deal. They suspect that BMW really wants far higher job cuts, with a long-term agenda to cut the existing workforce of 14,000 to just 6,000. The company has agreed to seek voluntary redundancies but the shop stewards believe it will have to resort to compulsory redundancies to achieve the necessary cuts.

 Apart from the job losses, the worst aspect will be the introduction of a "working time account" system. The basic working week will be cut from 37 to 35 hours and there is no objection to this.

 But the system means that at times of peak demand, workers will be asked to do extra hours and instead of being paid overtime -- there will be no overtime pay at all -- they will be promised equivalent time off when production is slack.

 Saturday will be treated as a normal working day.

 The history of these deals in other factories is that the extra time off is always promised but rarely materialises, meaning that the workers are effectively donating many hours of overtime work freely to the company. The stewards have a tough choice. Condemning the deal could lead to the end of Rover as a car manufacturer. They have described the deal as "pretty much blackmail".

 One told a BBC radio news programme: "They have us over a barrel. We have to accept the deal or else we will lose our jobs."

 Union leaders have backed the deal: Ken Jackson of the AEEU engineering union, Roger Lyons of the MSF general union and Bill Morris of the TGWU general union say the priority is to keep the plant open.

 Roger Lyons said: "The negotiations have been difficult but this deal is essential to save not just Longbridge but a large part of the West Midlands economy."

 TGWU chief negotiator Tony Woodley said the effects of the deal will be "profound". "It will have major effects on the whole British car industry if not industry generally."

 It is a set-back for the working class, against a background of recession that is threatening manufacturing throughout the world.

 Ford may have had some government help -- but it is still keeping to a four-day week into the New Year and indefinitely because of lack of demand.

 Volvo in Sweden is making massive cuts. Peugeot alone is talking about taking on new workers.

 And the resignation of Hasselkus illustrates again how the capitalist system rules the capitalists, not the other way around.

 Those who don't make cuts fast enough in times of crisis are headed for the scrap heap. It's time for an end to this system.

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Southall rail crash: GWR faces manslaughter charges
by Caroline Colebrook
THE GREAT Western Rail company is facing seven charges of corporate manslaughter for the seven people who died in the Southall rail crash in September 1997.

 The seven died and 180 were injured when the 10.32 Swansea to Paddington passenger train smashed into an empty goods train that was crossing the line in front of it just outside Southall.

 The driver of the train was charged with manslaughter earlier this year but evidence which emerged shortly after the crash indicated that there were faults both by the GWR and Railtrack.

 The signalling in the Southall area had been altered by Railtrack and a vital red signal was possibly obscured by a new gantry.

 If the driver had missed this signal the next signal would have given him just a few seconds to react and apply the brakes. He would not have expected a freight train to have been given priority to cross the line in front of a mainline passenger service.

 Another major factor in the accident was a faulty automatic warning system (AWS) on the train.

 The fault had been reported before the train even arrived in Swansea. The driver noted it was not working in his duty log. The train should then have been taken out of service until the fault was fixed.

 But due to a loophole in the regulations, GWR was operating a policy of not taking action over this sort of fault until the train was due for its next routine check up.

 This meant a train could have operated for up to three days with a faulty AWS system.

 There was only one driver in the cab, a new working practice introduced since privatisation. Under British Rail, if the AWS system was out, there would have had to be two drivers on board.

 There was another more sophisticated safety system on the train -- the Automatic Train Protection System -- but it was not operational. It is alleged it was cut for budget reasons.


 The accident could have been a lot worse. Most of the train was packed with standing room only. But ironically the front carriage, which took the brunt of the crash, was first class and so nearly empty.

 The offence of corporate manslaughter has been on the statute book since 1896 but there have only ever been two successful prosecutions.

 The GWR is due to appear for a first hearing on 12 January in Ealing magistrates' court. The whole case could take a year to reach a conclusion.

 The GWR also faces a separate prosecution from the Health and Safety Executive.

 Victims of the crash have welcomed the decision to prosecute. They are still awaiting the outcome of three separate inquiries into the disaster which have been suspended until all court action is out of the way. They will not get any compensation until it is all cleared up.

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New threat to Kurdish leader

 KURDISTAN WORKERS Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, currently in house arrest in Rome, may soon face trial in a hastily convened "international" court following American pressure on Italy not to let the Kurdish leader slip from their grasp.

 Ocalan is held in a villa in Rome while the Italian Democratic Left-led government consider his appeal for political asylum. His chances are slim.

 Though Italy threw out Turkish demands for Ocalan's extradition on the grounds that he would face the death penalty in a Turkish court the Democratic Left coalition is under immense pressure from US imperialism to deny him asylum and to keep him in detention of one form or another.

 Germany, which had a warrant for Ocalan's arrest on trumped up charges, ducked out by refusing to press for the PKK leader's extradition. Some half-a-million Turkish Kurds live and work in Germany and Berlin doesn't want to do anything which could inflame an already angry community.

 But Ocalan has always been a them in the flesh of US imperialism, which exercises a virtual Nato protectorate over Turkey. Since 1984 the PKK has led the struggle of the Turkey's 10 million Kurds for self-determination. Some 37,000 people have been killed in the conflict -- mainly victims of Turkish army and its covert death squads.

 US foreign minister, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, has publicly called for Ocalan to be put on trial. "We would prefer that this takes place in Turkey, she said adding that Germany and Italy could assist "And so whatever happens, we believe that it is very important for those who commit terrorist acts to face justice.".

 In Western jargon "terrorist" is used to monsterise anyone who dares to take up the gun against imperialism or its local lackeys. And Albright's words were dutifully echoed by Italian Democratic Left premier Massimo D'Alema who said "We arrested that terrorist and we are working to bring him before a court and to put him on trial -- something no-one has know how to do or been willing to do."

 This is being dressed up with a hints of European Union support for a peaceful solution of the Kurdish question in Turkey. How the imperialists think this can be achieved with their main national leader behind bars is difficult to see.

 Ocalan has repeatedly offered to end the fighting in return for negotiations with the Turkish government.

 "We, the PKK, genuinely represent the will of the vast majority of Kurdish people in Turkey and elsewhere. We sincerely want to resolve the Kurdish problem democratically -- even within the borders of Turkey -- but they [Turkish ruling class] do not support this idea," he said.

 "We are more than ready and willing to engage in a political debate. Haven't I said this time after time? But isn't it ironic that if we call for a cease-fire, Turkey cries out that we are weak, that the PKK is finished. If we fight on, however, Turkey screams that we are 'terrorists'."

 And behind Turkish oppression stands American imperialism. Or as Ocalan put it: "The United States is Turkey's most significant economic and strategic ally. Yet the United States continues to designate the PKK as a 'terrorist' organisation and to back Turkey's endemic violent and anti-democratic actions as 'measures necessary to protect Turkish national security'. This makes the American government today every bit as culpable of the atrocities being committed against the Kurdish people as Turkey itself.".

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British News

New wave of job losses
 THE GOVERNMENT is still in denial about the coming recession but the job losses are mounting up quickly, here and abroad.

 In St Helens Lancashire United Glass is to close with the loss of 450 jobs. Union leaders at the plant said the news was like a "bolt from the blue".

 Councillor Mick Doyle also criticised the firm for not discussing problems with the local authority.

 Courtaulds is to close the newly acquired CLaremont garment factory in South Shields which used to make a lot of goods for Marks and Spencer until the high street chain decided to buy cheaper abroad.

 The factory had been losing money for two years before it was taken over by Courtaulds. Union leaders have described the closure as a classic case of asset stripping.

 Around 1,200 jobs will go.

 Impending mergers of giant oil companies involving Exxon with Mobil and Total with Petrofina put 19,000 jobs at risk globally. A share of them will be in Britain.

 The American aircraft giant Boeing is to cut 48,000 jobs globally as a result of the Asian economic crisis.

 The Swedish motor manufacturer Volvo is cutting 5,300 due to falling demand in Asia and Brazil.

 The deal between the German Deutsche bank and Bankers' Trust of America will cost 5,500 jobs. Around 3,000 of these will be in the City of London.

 And Manchester's top 100 companies have reported a marked slowdown in trade this year.

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