Preparations are well in hand for our 20th anniversary celebrations. If you can make it to London on the 12th of July come along to the Conway Hall and say hi!
But the maudlin press and television coverage in Britain did its best to bang the imperial drum and lingered over the white tropical uniforms of the departing British troops, the Union flags, a be-medalled prince of Wales, the Royal Yacht in the harbour and the strains of Land of Hope and Glory.
Its commentaries portrayed the departing British officials as the upholders of freedom and democracy -- one headline in The Times last week even described former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten as "The Last Democrat".
British foreign minister Robin Cook and United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright used the occasion to play the "human rights" card, threatening China with some unspecified western action if it doesn't uphold western approved capitalist democracy in Hong Kong -- as if the British imperialists had allowed the citizens of Hong Kong a single ounce of any form of "democracy" for most of its century and a half of direct rule.
The tone of the British departure is one of the parting of old friends, the farewell of some benevolent leadership that has cared for Hong Kong and its people.
The truth is that British imperialism was only ever serving its own interests. Britain forced the ceding of Hong Kong with gunboats and armed aggression. It seized this part of Chinese territory in order to foist the disgraceful opium trade on China against its will.
After the opium trade ended Britain continued to use Hong Kong as a strategic eastern base for imperialism and as a centre for British capitalism to grow fat by exploiting the mass of the people of Hong Kong.
The hand-wringing about bourgeois-democracy from the British ruling class and their crocodile tears for the future of the Hong Kong business elite has nothing to do with concem for so-called "democracy" and "human rights".
What British capital is really weeping for is the loss of capitalist state power in Hong Kong which, by being reunited with China, is now part of a country in which the working class holds the reins of state power.
The much acclaimed economic miracle of Hong Kong was only a miracle for some. The great wealth they so boast about was created by the working people of Hong Kong who toiled long and hard for appallingly low wages. Their miracle was managing to survive -- not for them the five star hotels, elite golf club and luxurious hillside villas of the rich.
Hong Kong's reunification with China will be of enormous benefit to the majority of kong Kong's citizens. Far from losing the mythical wonders provided by Chris Patten's last minute exercise in bourgeois democracy, the people of Kong Kong will now be free -- free of foreign govenors, free of foreign troops and free of foreign rule.
Of course China doesn't have capitalist democracy -- it's not a capitalist state. In the eyes of the arrogant British ruling class this can only mean that China has no democracy at all.
This class and its coat-tailers are so consumed with hostility to socialism that the socialist democracy of China is barely mentioned -- except, that is, when it is being distorted and reviled as part of the continuous anticommunist propaganda onslaught against all the existing socialist countries.
But China is seen rather differently by millions of people in the developing world They recognise China's great achievements in the post-war period.
It is worth comparing China to India Both are in the developing world and both have large populations -- with China's being by far the largest. India won its independence from Britain in 1947 and China carried out its socialist revolution in 1949.
From that point in the late forties, India continued to follow a capitalist path and China a socialist path. China has made huge strides economically and the benefits of that advance have been shared among the people. The future for China is bright.
India, on the other hand, remains class-divided with vast differences between the rich and the many poor. The subcontinent of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, all of which are in the capitalist camp, have millions of people living and dying in poverty and the ministrations of the IMF and World Bank are causing the belts of the poor to be tightened even further.
The restoration of Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong is an event to be celebrated -- only the imperialists are wiping away the tears.
But doctors warned last week at the British Medical Association's meeting in Edinburgh that an extra £l billion a year is urgently needed for the next five years if the NHS is to get out of its cut ctisis.
The extra money promised in the budget, though welcome, is too little and too late to avert another winter crisis in the emergency departments of Britain's hospitals at the end of this year.
Winter always puts the health service under strain because the cold weather increases the number of accidents and certain types of illness.
Last winter saw hospitals struggling hard to find enough beds. Some patients had to be transported to hospitals miles away from where they lived, some had to wait for hours on trolleys before a bed could be found and some patients died who might have been saved.
The NHS needs an injection of funds now, not in 1998, if another crisis is to be avoided. We cannot just sit and hope for a mild winter! And as the BMA has pointed out, the NHS needs extra funding throughout the life of this parliament -- one-off doses will not cure the patient.
The Labour government has rightly made the NHS and education spending priorities in its first budget. But there still needs to be continuing pressure for higher funding levels to meet the needs of these public services following the years of cuts and closures under the Tories.
The Chancellor also promised an extra £l billion for schools in 1998-99 (paid from the reserves) and a further £1.3 billion for schools' capital investment and technology (paid for from the Windfall Tax).
But Local Authorities' education capping will remain.
As expected the budget made no change to either the basic rate or top rate of income tax. The government is continuing the Tories' policy of letting the rich off the hook by keeping top tax at a very low level. This major concession to the ruling class has tied the government's hands and limited increases in social spending.
The Windfall Tax on the profits of privatised utilities will be introduced. It will be paid in two parts --on 1 December 1997 and 1 December 1998. This is in no way a substitute for a progressive taxation policy that would shift the burden from the less well off on to the wealthy. Nor can it raise the amount of revenue that higher top rate income tax would yield.
The windfall tax will be used to provide a £200 million package for lone parents and the £1.3 billion schools' capital investment and technology cash.
The government plans to spend £3.5 billion on its "welfare to work" programme.
A welcome measure was the announcement that Value Added Tax (VAT) on fuel and power will be cut from the present eight per cent to five percent from 1 September this year.
There will be an Inland Revenue review aimed at stopping tax dodging.
Stamp Duty is to be raised to 1.5 per cent on property sales of more than £250,000 and to two per cent on sales over £500,000. Mortgage Interest Relief OMIRAS) a to be cut to 10 per cent from next April and there will be an extra £200 milllion council borrowing allowed for housing this year with a further £700 million next year.
This will stimulate some new house building, providing both jobs and affordable homes. But it will not solve the acute shortage of housing nor does it ensure that the new housing will not end up in the private sector.
Car tax is to go up by £5 from November along with increases on cigarettes, spirits, wine and beer.
Mr Brown, what do we need Trident for? Why can we afford billions for nuclear weapons but only small change for our essential services? The need to campaign remains!
HEALTH Secretary Frank Dobson last week announced changes to the make up of most National Health Service trusts to make them more locally accountable. But he failed to promise to re-unite them in a truly national health service.
He has given warning to the many Tory-appointed directors of NHS trusts from business and the private sector that their contracts will not be renewed when they finish in the autumn.
Their places will be taken by local councillors, health visitors and volunteers involved in caring for the sick.
And under new rules to be introduced next April, anyone applying for the role of chairperson of an NHS trust will have to show that they live locally and that they have a commitment to the NHS.
Most of the casualties will be from the business community and private health companies like Bupa.
Three major regional health bosses lost their jobs last Friday: Sir Stuart Burgess of Anglia and Oxford, John Greetham of Northern and Yorkshire and Keith Ackroyd of Trent.
Tory MPs are complaining that the new appointments will result in lucrative part-time jobs for local labour councillors -- as though sitting on these quangos did not provide the same for their business pals.
From now on all local councils will have the right to nominate a candidate for a vacancy on the board of any health trust in their area.
Mr Dobson will also insist that appointments conform to rules drawn up last may by the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life.
He told the NHS Confederation Conference in Brighten last week: "We have to get every part of the NHS working together. We simply cannot afford some of the wasteful crackpot competition that the internal market provoked at the outset.
I know that as a result of the bitter experience of competition, the idea of co-operation is making a come-back."
Mr Dobson is also planning to involve local authorities in creating "health action zones" in inner cities to push through more changes in health care.
Unfortunately this is proposed to follow the Tory model of dosing or downgrading many hospitals -- as if inner cities had not seen enough hospital closures in recent years.
The changes would allow the NHS to acquire extra funding without raising taxes by tapping into the local authority budgets which are part of the Department of the Environment.
He has called this initiative "an NHS closer to home", declaring: "People want to be able to look after themselves best of all and pop round the corner for immediate attention. They are willing to go a little bit further to go to hospital."
It is difficult to work out how he arrived at this assumption. It is precisely people who are ill -and a high proportion of them elderly -- who have most difficulty in travelling long distances.
It is now common for sick pensioners to have to travel right across London on a daily basis -in journeys that take several hours on public transport and at rush hour times when they cannot use their free travel permits -- for appointments for 15 minutes of cancer treatment that used to be available in local hospitals.
But the bosses of the NHS now say that the NHS is saddled with too many old hospitals trying to deliver too broad a range of care.
And they complain that attempts to "rationalise" services are often impeded by local public opposition.
This should give heart to all health service campaigners. Your efforts to preserve local services are not in vain.
* Doctors attending the British Medical Association's annual meeting in Edinburgh last Monday voted firmly against any attempt to introduce charges for patients attending their local general practitioners or receiving hospital treatment.
Chairperson of the GP committee Dr Ian Bogle said: "My grandfather, a GP before the war, had one ancillary member of staff -- a debt collector. I don't want us to go back to that."
"I firmly believe that no financial barrier should come between my medical services and my patients -- ever."
The BMA did recognise that the NHS is facing a funding crisis and needs an extra £l billion a year over the next five years to maintain services. This is equivalent to £17 per head of the population.
BMA council member Dr Evan Harris said: "There is no evidence to support the view that British voters won't pay for their cherished NHS -- this argument is not even supported by opinion polls."
"I don't accept the fatalistic argument that the NHS is a bottomless pit and that it can never be adequately funded and that we may as well give up now."
"Before we accept new or higher charges on the old and the sick we must have a proper debate and engage battle on fair direct taxation which the government -- despite its claim to rule out nothing in the search for more money -- appears to have excluded."
HONG KONG, over six million citizens and a major international financial trading centre, returned to China on 1 July after 156 years of British occupation. It also marks the 76th anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
China's President Jiang Zemin said on the eve of the handover: "We will furmly uphold the principles of 'one country, two systems' and 'Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong' as well as a high degree of autonomy."
And further: "We will firmly support HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] in exercising its rights vested by the Basic Law and safeguard the Hong Kong residents' rights and freedoms in accordance with the law."
The Basic Law was finally agreed, following a joint British-Chinese declaration and treaty, at China's Seventh National People's Congress in April 1990 for the Hong Kong SAR. This law now takes immediate effect.
This follows the concept of "one country, two systems", established in the British-Chinese treaty of 1984, demonstrated especially by China's assurance that Hong Kong's market economy has a 50-year breathing space.
China's Premier Jiang Zemin, reinforcing China's right -- enshrined in the new law -- to maintain the defence and security interests of Hong Kong, issued a decree on the entry of Chinese troops during the handover.
He told the 4,000 People's Liberation Army garrison about to be stationed in Hong Kong: "After being station in Hong Kong, you must ... serve the people heart and soul, carry forward your fine traditions, implement your functions faithfully, abide by the discipline and law, command the troops in line with the law."
Premier Zemin said this was "to build up the troops into a powerful and civilised force -which is qualified politically and competent militarily -- and have a fine style of work, strict discipline and adequate logistical support."
They were, he said, to "make active contributions to safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the motherland and maintaining a long term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong."
The 1984 treaty and subsequent Basic Law reflects China's position -- hardly made clear here -- that Hong Kong was not a British colony. It is part and not the whole of Chinese territory, and since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, they have never recognised any of the three unequal treaties.
In November 1972, to put international force behind this crucial distinction, the Chinese government successfully argued for United Nations recognition of their standpoint. Both Hong Kong and Macao (technically due to return to China in 1999) were kept off the UN's list of countries declared to be undercolonial rule.
Its 28th and last governor Chris Patten, described Britain's relationship with Hong Kong as "Britain's imperial adventure" in the Wall Street Journal. He believes that British ministers and the US showed disapproval of China's future intentions by not attending the handover ceremony.
Ex-Governor Patten had unilaterally introduced a "political reform package" which sidestepped the January 1996 established 150-member Preparatory Committee of which 94 or 63 per cent came from Hong Kong.
The Chinese government rejected Pattens' plan, and now, with the new Chief Executive Tung Che-Hwa sworn in, there is a Provisional Legislative Council in place to conduct affairs until full elections next year.
And although Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair didn't attend the ceremony, Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen met with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, and Tony Blair announced that he will visit China next year. In fact, former Tory Premier Edward Heath, Sir Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine did attend.
Despite all the hype about the US-financed Democratic Party's concern for safeguarding democracy in Hong Kong (the Legislative: Council), when its leader Martin Lee called out his supporters during the handover to demonstrate their dissatisfaction, he could barely muster a few hundred.
It is significant that, in an interview with ITV's Trevor MacDonald, that Patten should believe that a mistake had been made when Britian failed to be more "sensitive" in the mid-1970s to a rising Hong Kong middle class. But not "sensitive" to Hong Kong workers who have been there for 156 years?
This fact is hardened when we realise that it was only in the latter 90s that this Tory governor began beefing up social welfare spending. In 1993/4 it went up a staggering 25 per cent and continued within sight of 1997.
But the scale of this increase the Chinese government believes, may have created future difficulties. The Basic Law pledges to improve welfare to underpin social stability. The opposite was happening here, of course.
On the eve of handover, China's People's Daily editorialised on the Chinese Communist Party's anniversary: "Let us, under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Jiang Zemin at the core and under the guidance of the theory of Deng Xiaoping for building socialism with Chinese characteristics and the Party's basic line, make greater efforts to strengthen the unity of the Party, the unity of the people of all nationalities of the country and the unity withall the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation overseas."
While 65 per cent of the people live on 10 per cent of the land, areas of Kowloon have one of the world's highest levels of overcrowding: 195,000 people per square kilometre.
Workforce: 3.16 million in 1996.
Unemployment rate: 2.9 per cent; per capita gross domestic product: $23,000 in 1995.
Economy: Trade between China and Hong Kong has more than doubled roughly every four years over the last 20 years; Hong Kong is China's third-rank trading partner after Japan and the US; it is China's biggest source of external investment, ammounting to 60 per cent of all inward capital investment.
Hong Kong is the world's eighth largest trading economy and the second largest financial centre after Tokyo, with predictions of being the best stock performer over 1997-8 (two-year 35 per cent growth)
. BY the beginning of 1996, 4,523 foreign companies established offices in Hong Kong, 40 per cent of which arrived over the last five years. 1,756 Chinese companies are registered in Hong Kong. It handles half of China's exports and one third of Hong Kong's re-exports go to China.
It's container port is one of the busiest in the world, and the Kai Tak airport is in the top five for passenger and cargo volume.
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BILL MORRIS, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union last Wednesday welcomcd a change of heart by British Airways chief Robert Ayling who finally agreed to conciliation talks under the auspices of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).
The change was inspired by the union announcement of the first three-day strike by cabin crews, due to begin next Wednesday.
The company had already agreed to negotiate with the TGWU in a separate dispute with ground staff over plans to hive off the in-flight food preparation services after an emphatic ballot in favour of strike action by the ground staff -- 4,150 in favour and 2,485 against.
The cabin crews' strike ballot announced the week before, showed 73 per cent in favour of action on a very high turn out.
The dispute is over company attempts to impose a new pay and conditions package that would increase hours.
This package is part of a plan, hatched by BA a year ago, for a complete restructuring of the company to save £l billion. Part of that strategy is to undermine and smash trade unionism among staff.
The cabin staff, in their ballot result, were expressing anger at attempts by BA to intimidate them with threats of the sack and of being sued if they took strike action.
BA claimed it could not negotiate on the cabin crews' dispute because it had already secured agreement to the package with another "union" -- Cabin Crew '89.
Bill Morris described this organisation as a "tiny, breakaway rump", set up by the company. It is not affiliated to the TUC and has a very small membership compared to the TGWU, which represents 9,000 of the 12,000 cabin staff.
And Mr Morris urged BA to negotiate on both disputes at the same time. He said the public did not want a settlement to "half a dispute. Since BA has turned a deaf ear to common sense, the union is left with no choice but to authorise. the action requested by BA employees."
BA's decision to come to ACAS afterall marks a big climb down by Mr Ayling and an end to his posturing. It also shows he completely misjudged the mood of his staff when he thought he could bully them into submission. He only strengthened their resolve.
He had declared that the company would not tolerate "1970s style trade unionism" and accused Bill Morris of using "confrontational union tactics of the worst kind". Meanwhile he himself was using eighteenth century style management of the kind associated with Captain Bligh.
The TUC has backed up the TGWU position and has circulated unions around the world to ensure that BA will not easily be able to recruit scab workers to staff its planes from abroad.
TUC general secretary John Monks said the TUC would support the unions involved "in all ways possible to secure a fair settlement, to protect jobs and entitlements and ensure BA does not succeed with intimidating 80s style management tactics."
As we go to press, the planned strike is still on the cards. Bill Morris declared that it would stay that way while the union discovers whether or not BA is sincere in its desire to negotiate.