The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 5th November, 1999

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Editorial - Axe falls again.
Lead Story - Labour rebellion over benefit cuts.
Feature - Witness to inhumanity.
International - Galloway bus reaches Jordan!
British News - Protest over custody deaths.


Axe falls again

THOUSANDS of job losses were announced last week in the insurance, tobacco, electrical and coal mining industries. And the decision of Marks & Spencers to switch garment production to lower waged firms abroad threatens a further 800 jobs. Altogether over three thousand jobs have been lost or put on notice in the space of a week.

 It seems the annual Christmas box will be a P45 in the post for many workers and their families, and the New Year, for all its Millenium hype, will be a time of anxiety and fear for the future.

 Meanwhile the government is using the same polishing rag as the Tories to put a shine on the unemployment figures. It only counts those who are actually signing on for the Job Seekers Allowance -- giving a figure at the end of September of 1.2 million.

 If, on the other hand, we look at the number of people over the last quarter who told the Labour Force Survey that they want a job then the figure is 4,147,000 (14.2 per cent of the workforce).

 At the same time big business has been trying to persuade the government to water down the EU's directive on working hours. It shows that big business wants a free hand to raise the level of exploitation of those in work and it wants to maintain a significant army of unemployed workers to act as both a reserved army of labour and a reminder to those in work of the fate that could await them too.

 One reason for capitalism's failure to overcome the scourge of unemployment is simply that it doesn't want the problem resolved -- in fact the capitalist class regards a level of unemployment to be good for business and good for capitalism.

 And of course it is incapable of solving this problem in any case. Though it wants the working class to provide a market and have enough money to be able to buy the goods they have produced it also wants to keep up the rate of profit by paying the lowest possible wages. This is one of the contradictions that leads to recurring crises of over production and its inevitable consequence -- job losses and workplace closures.

 In economic downturns, recessions and slumps there are so many people made unemployed that the problems just get worse and worse.

 Because unemployment benefit is always a pittance -- much less than even the lowest wage, there is less and less spending power in the market place and so fewer goods can be bought -- even though the increasing poverty of the people means there is a growing need for those goods.

 The glut of unsold products leads to the failure of more small and medium sized businesses which in turn adds again to the number of unemployed.

 This is why unemployment, poverty and insecurity descend on working people like bolts from the blue. These disasters strike regardless of how hard people have worked or how long their service has been to a firm or industry.

 The cause of these crises and disasters is the capitalist system itself. While capitalism holds sway the majority of the people will live with the fear of unemployment and poverty. The system cannot be reformed by well-meaning governments into a more rational or kinder form.

 The best we can wring from it are reforms to ameliorate its worst effects -- such as improved welfare benefits and other social services -- and even that requires a high degree of working class militancy since the capitalist class always resists agreeing to increased social spending, particularly at these times of crisis.

 It doesn't have to be like this. We do not always have to be tossed around like corks floating on the waves of this inhuman system.

 We can strive for a better, truly democratic, future in which the many rule instead of the few and in which working people count. We need to build a socialist society and a planned economy that is not driven solely by the desire of the rich to get richer but which seeks to create a better life for everyone.

 As well as joining in the struggle of our class for its immediate goals, we need to build and strengthen our Party, the New Communist Party, and hold high the banner of revolution!

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Lead Story

Labour rebellion over benefit cuts

By Daphne Liddle

FORTY backbench Labour MPs last Wednesday voted against Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling's Bill to turn Incapacity Benefit into a means-tested benefit.

 The Bill was nevertheless passed because Labour has such a huge majority with 320 ayes and 262 noes. It may not become law though because life peer Jack Ashley has vowed to retable amendments that wreck the Bill when it goes again to the House of Lords.

 If this happens the Bill could run out of time for the current parliamentary session which ends in a couple of weeks just before the Queen's Speech and the start of the new session.

 The Bill already faced a bigger rebellion last May when 65 rebel Labour MPs voted against it and a greater number abstained.

 The Labour leadership had expected a revolt and curiously even welcomed it. One of the inner circle is reported to have said that it suited the government to have a revolt because: "It would show we had the bottle, that we would do what the Tories failed to do -- reform the welfare state."

 Another is reported to have said. "We factored the revolt into the equation. There is no way the Campaign group would not vote against it."

 This is an amazingly honest admission that the Labour leadership not only sought to tail on Tory anti-working class policies, but intended to be more efficient in imposing them.

 Last week the Tories themselves accused the government of lacking originality and merely picking up policies they themselves had "left on the cutting room floor".

 The idea of making Incapacity Benefit means-tested had been introduced in 1993 under the Tory regime by Michael Portillo. Peter Lilley, Social Security Secretary at the time, blocked the measure because it would enrage disabled people and raise questions about the benefit's contributory principle.

 The government may have been expecting last May's revolt but was nevertheless surprised by the size of it. This is perhaps why last week Alistair Darling made two concessions that he hoped would take the wind out of the rebellion.

 Originally the Bill would have started to cut Incapacity Benefit paid to those with occupational pensions above £50 a week.

 His first concession was to raise that threshold to £85 a week. This is currently about one fifth of the value of the average male wage in Britain today.

 His second concession was to extend eligibility of new claimants from anyone disabled who had made a National Insurance payment within the last two years to anyone who had made a payment in the last three years.

 The Disability Benefits Consortium responded: "The compromises are minimal. There is a huge gap between these and the real needs of disabled people."

 Alistair Darling, in his Commons speech, painted a picture of Incapacity Benefit claimants enjoying private pensions of around £400 a week.

 Only a tiny minority receive that sort of pension.

 Prime Minister Tony Blair pointed to the growing costs of Incapacity Benefit and claimed that making it means-tested would allow the government to give more "to those who really need it" -- as if most did not.

 But his remarks revealed yet another instance of the government trying to get the poor to fund benefits to the even poorer.

 Professor Peter Townsend, speaking for the Disability Alliance, said: "The growth of poverty and structural inequality, which has become a marked feature of Britain in the last two decades, is not going to be stopped by getting the near-poor to pay for the poor, by reducing many benefits relative to earnings and by trying to offset public alarm by increasing the level of benefits only for a select few.

 "Means-testing benefits, and forcing people into making private arrangements, are both costly to administer and miss millions who are theoretically to be included."

 The govemment action against one of the most vulnerable sections of the population is a disgrace.

 They have already tried to attack benefits for the disabled by continuing Tory policies of trying to prove many claimants are false.

 Both Labour and Tories failed to do this but angered and humiliated many honest claimants in the process.

 There is no excuse for a rich country like Britain not to be able to give its disabled people a decent standard of living.

 The money is there, it is just in the wrong pockets. Instead of taxing hard-up claimants the government should tax the seriously rich.

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Witness to inhumanity

by Ray Davies

FOR months I had been concerned about the statistics coming out of the World Health Organisation about the large increase in birth deformities, cancers and child mortality in Iraq since the Gulf War.

 Therefore I decided to go on a humanitarian visit and take badly needed medicines, equipment and medical journals to Iraq.

 I was accompanied on the visit by David Rolstone, a fellow member of Voices in the Wilderness, and my trip was one quarter sponsored by CND Cymru.

 The day before we flew to Iraq via Jordan we delivered a letter to Tony Blair telling him of our intention to break sanctions by taking these supplies.

 We arrived in Amman, Jordan, on 14 October and immediately went to the Iraqi embassy to apply for visas. This meant a two-day wait -- plus lots of pleading and argument -- whilst our application was processed.

 We finally left Amman for Iraq by bus on Friday. The trip of some 600 miles was mainly across the hot, arid desert, where the monotony was only broken by the different colours of sand and rock, and Bedouin shepherds tending their flocks.

 At the border there were endless security checks, health checks, tests for AIDS and many other administrative delays. We eventually arrived in Baghdad on Saturday morning, shattered and dehydrated.

 With no time to waste we visited a large building with an Italian aid worker. This large near empty warehouse, with a pitiful pile of books and an even more pitiful heap of outdated medicines, told its own poignant story of the inhuman suffering of the Iraqi people.

 We and the small pile of books piled onto a broken-down open truck and visited three schools in a deprived district of Baghdad. We received VIP treatment.

 The children were dressed in their Sunday best and sat three to a desk made for one while others saton the floor. They sang a song of welcome. We distributed the books and pencils.

 Word had got around that I was from Wales and I was asked to sing. I was emotionally upset and the only thing I could manage was Dylan Thomas' song, Eli Jenkins' Prayer. It was listened to in complete silence with everyone holding hands. With not a dry eye in sight we said our goodbyes to the most thunderous applause.

 The next day we visited the Iraqi Red Crescent and were met by its President Dr Alwash.

 He thanked us for the small amount of medical supplies but said that it may give the world the impression that Iraq now had plenty of drugs. I told him no -- our small amount of medical supplies were symbolic and that by breaking the sanctions we were risking five years in prison.

 We also told him of our visit to 10 Downing Street informing the Prime Minister of our intention.

 Our visit was interrupted by a visiting American doctor who said he had an emergency case of a two-day-old baby born without a roof pallet in its mouth and who was in danger of dying from want of feeding.

 A special item of medical equipment was urgently required. There was nothing at the Red Crescent. We opened our boxes of supplies and there at the top was a piece of plastic tube with fittings. This one small item of medical equipment, costing just 95 pence, saved the life of this Iraqi child.

 With Iraqi Red Crescent travel permits in our pockets we travelled south to Basra and into the No Fly Zone.

 United States planes flew over the area every day. They were always followed by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire.

 We visited the Archbishop of Basra. His daily task was to give spiritual sustenance to his flock and distribute food and medicine to the poor of all religions.

 We called in at the main sewerage and water treatment plant. It was working at half capacity due to the shortage of spare parts. Poor sewerage and water is helping to kill 5000 Iraqi children a month. There have also been outbreaks of cholera.

 We then visited a local hospital to see the problems at first hand. The hospital manager told us that in his region there have been many children born with severe de formities due to the use of depleted uranium in the so-called smart-bombs dropped during the Gulf War. The deformities caused included, babies born with no brain, no eyes, two heads. Malnutrition and child mortality were increasing all the time.

 There was only one ambulance instead of the five needed to bring pregnant mother; to hospital from a wide region. Poor peasant families scratching a living from their polluted earth cannot afford taxis. They try to cope without treatment -- or die.

 I braced myself for the ward visit but nothing could have prepared me for some of the sights confronting me. One two-week old baby with no nose, half a mouth and large eyes, others so severely malnourished they could fit comfortably into the palm of my hand. Young mothers with their first baby, crying and desperately trying to keep disease laden flies off their dying children.

 We move along the ward. I don't want to see any more angry mothers asking me why. But I am compelled to see the multitude of children suffering and dying from a hundred different diseases. I must bear witness to this human disaster.

 A woman rushes over to me. Her thin bony fingers hold me in a vice like grip. "Why are you killing my baby?" she screamed in anger and despair.

 What could I do? I took out a photograph of my two young boys, Tad and Carwyn. I thrust it towards her. "If someone did to my babies what my government is doing to yours, I would want to kill them", I said. She looked at the photos and her eyes softened. She held my hand and I don't know who cried the most.

 We made a quick visit to the displaced persons centre where hordes of mostly barefoot kids descended onto our small bus. We gave out footballs and pencils, but then we ran out of goodies.

 What to do? "Sing them a song, Ray". I gave a croaking "Calon Lan" and it brought the house down. The kids were so overjoyed at the pathetic handout and when I asked why our interpreter said, for the first time in their lives, someone has recognised them as children -- as human beings.

 I had been ill with a tummy upset but now it had got much worse. I got up three times in the night with diarrhoea, my body sometimes shook with a strange fever and my mouth was dry.

 As I lay sleepless in bed I worried whether I may have to go into hospital. Then I thought "what hospital?" Every one in the Basra region is full of children dying from the effects of contaminated water. I have no health insurance -- what company would insure someone going into the No Fly Zone of Iraq? An American sanctions breaker gave me a tablet which eased the problem and we went on.

 It took six hours to reach Baghdad, out of the oppressive heat and humidity. Next day we visited the World Health Organisation.

 We showed their top officer correspondence from 10 Downing Street which blamed the plight of the Iraqis on the Iraqi government for witholding food and medicine.

 He flatly refuted the letterand said that the work of the WHO is to monitor all food and drugs coming into Iraq. All food had been distributed amongst the population to the accepted high standards of the WHO. He also stated that problems affecting the Iraqi population were directly attributable to the Gulf War and to sanctions.

 We finally said goodbye to the Iraqi people -- the shoeshine boys whose families can't afford for them to go to school, the cheeky young street beggars who dart between fast cars risking their lives for peanuts, the taxi drivers whose broken down vehicles make an extra contribution to the polluted atmosphere -- all of these people should hate us, but they show us warmth and friendship.

 A 20-hour bus ride with a five-and-a-half hour hold-up at the Iraqi/Jordanian border broughtus back to Amman City.

 As we finally crossed the border I looked back at the red arid desert and the Bedouin shepherds.

 I held the hand of an Iraqi youth who had left his family to look for work in Jordan, and said: "One day when the olive tree of peace bursts forth in your lovely country, one day when the evil sanctions are gone forever, we will go back to a country of peace and prosperity in that beautiful land called Iraq".

 Would I do it again? -- Yes! It must be right to bear witness to man's inhumanity to man -- or rather, to children.

  For further information: contact Cllr Roy Davies 01222 889514

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Galloway bus reaches Jordan!

by Our Middle East Affairs correspondent

GEORGE GALLOWAY and the Big Ben to Baghdad bus has arrived in Jordan on the last lap of an epic journey which started in London last September.

 The campaigning Labour MP reached the Jordanian port of Akaba last Saturday from Egypt in the now famous red Routemaster bus which has travelled from London through France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to take medicines to Iraq and campaign for an end to the brutal Western blockade of that defiant Arab country.

 The mercy bus has been the focus of the Mariam Appeal, named after Mariam Hamza, the Iraqi child suffering from leukaemia rushed to Scotland in May 1998 for emergency treatment unobtainable in Baghdad because of the blockade.

 Galloway told a meeting atthe Egyptian journalists' union centre in Cairo that "according to the statistics announced by the UN, 7,000 Iraqi children die monthly because of lack of food and medicine". The blockade was "the 21st century's crime implemented by the United States and Britain."

 He also accused Britain and the US of duplicity in tackling the causes of tension in the Middie East. Iraq, after nine years of sanctions and inspection, is considered by Washington and London as having weapons of mass destruction while Israel is at the top of the nuclear, biological and chemical weapons' mountain, he declared.

 The Labour MP together with a dedicated band of volunteers including the chair of the Arab Bar Association in London is spending this week in Jordan and leaves Amman this Friday for the last, long desert trek to Baghdad.

 Throughout the journey they've focused on the collapsing health situation in Iraq -- particularly the soaring cancer rate which may well have been caused by Western depleted-uranium tipped weapons and certainly buttressed by the monstrous sanctions regime.

 In the Iraqi capital Mariam Hamza's condition has worsened. She had been in a period of remission following treatment in Scotland and back in Baghdad. Now doctors have discovered a secondary infection in her spinal column and some cancer cells are present in her brain.

 The Appeal, which is funding her treatment, is trying to move her to the Al-Amal (Hope) Hospital in Jordan for further diagnosis.

 Iraq's minister of health has done everything possible to help the work of the appeal.

 "We know that Mariam has become an emblem for the suffering children of Iraq. And when she travelled overseas she was an ambassador of our country and its suffering humanity," he said.

 George Galloway called Mariam " a small candle whose presence will illuminate a dark corner where suffering and death is everywhere."

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British News

Protest over custody deaths

by Renee Sams

OVER 200 friends and relatives of people who had died in custody marched from Trafalgar Square last Saturday to present a petition to the Prime Minister demanding a public inquiry.

 Alan Knox, whose son Peter died in Bellmarsh prison on 4 January, told the New Worker: "The prison authorities knew that Peter was a schizophrenic and a suicide risk.

 "He should have been under constant watch but they put him in a single cell."

 Alan is calling for prison staff in charge of hospital units "to be trained in looking after prisoners suffering from mental illness so that they cannot harm themselves."

 Another mental health sufferer who died after being "restrained" by police after an incident at the Noric Clinic in Norwich was Rocky Bennett.

 One year on, the family still do not know why he died. Police say they are still investigating and no date has yet been set.for an inquest.

 Christopher Alder is another case of a healthy young man who died in custody. He got into a police van and soon after was dead, face down with his arms handcuffed behind his back.

 His sister Janet said: "I'm not going to be quiet until I get justice for Christopher."

 Over 1,350 people, black and white,have died in custody since 1990 and the United Families and Friends campaign is a coalition of families who have come together to do something about these terrible injustices.

 Seventeen black people have died in custody this year alone.

 The march was headed by a big placard bearing the names of recent death-in-custody scandals: Roger Sylvester, Kenneth Severin, Brian Douglas, Wayne Douglas, Joy Gardener, Shiji Lapite... and many, many more.

 Despite reassurances from Home Secretary Jack Straw that "there are initiatives underway and overall the situation is improving", campaigners say: "We beg to differ. Our loved ones continue to die in custody."

 The campaign is calling for all deaths in custody to be independently investigated and the Police Complaints Authority to be replaced by a body independent of the police.

 Individual officers and officials involved in custody deaths should be suspended until investigations are completed.

 They also want those found responsible for such deaths to face criminal charges -- retired or otherwise -- and police must be accountable.

 The campaign also calls for the disclosure of information to relatives of the victims during an investigation.

 Campaigners say that deaths in custody that remain unanswered "represent an unacceptable breach of human rights. As bereaved families and electors we demand an independent public inquiry."

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