MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS of workers all around the world took to the streets last Monday to mark international workers' day. In the socialist countries the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cuban peoples celebrated the success of their revolutions and paid tribute to the struggle of the international working class.
In the developing world workers and peasants gathered to rededicate themselves to the struggles ahead against imperialism and oppression. And in the heart of imperialism, in the United States, Western Europe and Japan, organised labour marched in defence of trade union rights and for socialist advance.
On 1 May 1886 American workers went on a general strike over the eight-hour day and better working conditions. In Chicago workers were gunned down by the cops during a rally in Haymarket Square. Eight of- their leaders were sentenced to death on trumped up charges and despite mass protests at this travesty of justice four were hanged the following year.
In 1889 the First Congress of the Second International decided to mark every May Day as a day of remembrance for the Chicago martyrs and international workers' solidarity. These were the "martyred dead" our Labour Party leaders honoured, often in their ignorance, when they sang the Red Flag.
Chicago's Haymarket is now covered by massive skyscrapers. Bourgeois historians hardly ever mention the 1886 struggles. On the rare occasions when they do, they present the May events as a local episode which has long lost its significance.
But the capitalist class has never been able to marginalise May Day or prevent its observation by the working class. Here in Britain the ruling class have never accepted even the modest acknowledgement of May Day made by the last Labour government in the 1970s, which established a May bank holiday on the first Monday of the month.
Every year we read the predictable complaints in the columns of the reactionary press. We're told that there are too many public holidays or that there are too many in the spring. This is usually followed by a demand to replace the May holiday with one in the autumn -- usually around some nonsensical date like "Admiral Nelson Day" which they say would have more significance to the public.
Needless to say none of these critics would dream of marking Oliver Cromwell -- 3 September would be the obvious choice -- nor do they ever call for the abolition of Whitsun, whose religious significance is lost to all but the handful who actually go to church. No, it's only May Day they hate, and they have good reason to hate it.
This is the one day of the year the entire world labour movement marches in step, east and west,north and south. It is a time for reflection, a time to pause and honour the martyrs who died for the cause. And it is a powerful symbol of working class unity and strength -- a challenge to the capitalist system of oppression, plunder and exploitation which must be ended once and for all.
Stand by Zimbabwe
Not a day passes without news from Zimbabwe. Foreign Minister Robin Cook is now going to spend much of his time in trying to resolve the land crisis -- a crisis whose roots lie squarely with British imperialism which robbed the blacks of their lands to give it to colonial settlers when the country was the British colony of Southern Rhodesia.
Every day a Serb is killed in Kosovo by thugs from the Nato-armed "Kosovo Liberation Army". The Nato-led occupation force turns a blind eye, the boss media and the "human rights" gang in Britain say nothing. Millions of Palestinian Arabs live in refugees camps and little or nothing is said. Romanies and other minorities are driven out of their homes in Eastern Europe and this is ignored -- unless they flee to the West, and then they are branded "bogus asylum seekers".
But the death of two white land-owners, killed fighting landless peasants in Zimbabwe is front-page news and the peasants, many of them former freedom-fighters, are portrayed as savages.
The government drivels on about "free and fair" elections in Zimbabwe, barely veiling their wish to see President Mugabe ousted. They say nothing about the rigged polls in Russia, Ukraine or the Baltic States, or the gerrymandered elections which used to be held in the occupied north of Ireland.
Zimbabwe's elections are a matter for the Zimbabwean people, not Britain. Zimbabwe's land-reforms are also nothing to with British imperialism and if British imperialism wants the landowners compensated for the loss of part or all of their enormous estates then it can easily pay for it out of the billions it stole from the Zimbabwean people throughout the last century.
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WORKERS at Rover's Longbridge plant in the West Midlands last week faced a rollercoaster ride of hopes raised and dashed and raised again -- and the banks really stuck the knife in by blocking overdraft facilities to the Phoenix bid to save the company.
Last week the Alchemy finance group withdrew its longstanding bid to buy most of the Rover car manufacturing company from its BMW parent.
Workers greeted this initially with joy as it meant that BMW would now have to look more favourable at the bid being hastily put together by Phoenix, under the leadership of former Rover chief executive John Towers.
Bill Mouls, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "Once again we are seeing the ugly face of global capital. While they pick over the carcass of Rover our members are struggling to work out how they are going to pay the bills.
"This is another opportunity for Towers to be treated seriously. BMW should start talking with John Towers immediately BMW should stop playing roulette with our members' jobs."
Until then BMW had looked unfavourably on the Phoenix bid as it basically just wants to unload what is seen as a heavy loss maker as quickly as possible.
Whatever happens there will be heavy job losses but the Phoenix proposal will keep large-scale motor manufacturing going in the West Midlands.
The situation was confused by many rumours that were floated and then denied -- for example that BMW, which has decided to hold on to the more profitable Mini manufacturing plant in Cowley, Oxford, would vastly increase production there.
Then there was a rumour they would withdraw entirely from Cowley and switch production of the Mini to Germany at a cost of 120,000 jobs in Britain.
Alchemy then hinted that it might revive its bid but was rebuffed by BMW.
Then came good news that there had been real progress in the talks between BMW and the Phoenix consortium.
Towers spoke of "detailed and positive" talks at the London offices of BMW's solicitors.
He was at last allowed to see all the necessary documents to work out a realistic bid for Rover and said: "We have now identified the relatively small number of items that our teams have to work on this week and it is all moving in the right direction."
The Labour government and the unions put all their strength behind the Phoenix bid with the Government hinting it may help with finance as it had previously agreed to give BMW help in renovating the Longbridge plant.
That plan, drawn up as a survival plan for Rover about 18 months ago, also had full Government and union backing. It fell through because the Government grant was long delayed by European Union red tape which restricts uncompetitive government subsidies to industry.
That same red tape would apply to any Government plan to subsidise the Phoenix plan.
TGWU chief negotiator Tony Woodley reported Rover workers coming forward to add their savings to backing Phoenix.
On May Day the workers headed the London march with optimism but the very next day they read that the British banks are refusing to underwrite the Phoenix bid.
These included the HSBC (formerly Midland), Barclays, NatWest and Lloyds. John Towers seemed surprised by this. Now he is looking to banks in the United States and Canada.
But the accounts of the Longbridge plant will count against them. The banks will be concerned only to ensure they make a profit, not a loss and Longbridge has been making huge losses.
The figures are of course distorted by the investment put into the plant over the last year by BMW to renovate it -- renovations which have yet to come into operation and start paying off.
But the future still looks bleak. BMW says that if no firm bid is confirmed by the end of this month, it will simply close Longbridge.
The truth is that there are two many cars being produced around the globe. Existing stocks of unsold Rover cars already amount to a value of "hundreds of millions".
Stepping up productivity is no cure if you can't sell what has already been produced.
The whole story underlines where the real power in our society lies -- not with unions or governments or even manufacturers but with the big banks.
The only cure for the ugly face of global capitalism is to overthrow it and replace it with socialism -- production planned to meet human need, not profit greed.
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by Jill Brown
IT MAY have seemed to some of our readers, from comments in other papers, that teachers just love to spend Easter holiday in an annual confrontation with anyone who comes to address their conferences. But in fact the majority of daily sessions are spent dealing with classroom issues and inner union matters.
This was certainly the case in Harrogate last week, where over 900 delegates from associations (union branches) of the National Union of Teachers from all over the country gathered for their annual conference -- to listen to each other and invited guests, in the hope that they too will be listened to.
Without any doubt, the most serious matter on this year's agenda was pay. This is not unusual but this year the difference was the imposition of performance-related pay, as warned in the conference preview in New Worker print edition, issue 1097.
Also to be expected was the call for a one-day strike and other action against this latest innovation.
The issue was introduced as a priority motion by the NUT executive but the debate that followed was conducted in disjointed chunks. This is because conference standing orders means that the contributions of six invited guests had to be inserted at regular intervals.
During the debate there were two card votes as well as shows of hands for certain parts. This meant the final, vital vote was announced in the very last minutes of the whole procedure.
One could he forgiven for suspecting this was a deliberate ploy, as hinted in the press.
Certainly delegates were getting restless at the parade of party education spokespeople. These were Labour Schools Minister Estelle Morris, Teresa May for the Tories and Phil Willis for the Liberal Democrats.
Both Morris and May said much the same thing about the future funding of education. They spelt out the end of local education authorities (LEAs) as we know them but with differing details. Both were heckled.
NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy responded to May by assuring delegates that the Tory education policy will be carefully scrutinised in the run-up to the next general election.
His remarks following Morris's speech were largely to soundly chastise delegatus for heckling her extremely patronising remarks. Thus he angered even the mildest teachers sitting in the hall.
Other guest speakers included Graham Lane of the Local Government Association, TUC general secretary John Monks and the general secretary of the Ethiopian Teachers' Union, Gemorav Kassa.
Lane supported many NUT policies with a defence of state and comprehensive education. He pointed out that the only way to deal with problem schools is through LEAs. Central government cannot handle such localised issues.
This can be seen where heads have been specially appointed under the Fresh Start arrangements. Three of them have recently resigned within two years of their appointment partly be cause of the unmanageable demands from Westminster.
The motion on Private Finance Initiatives was carried, calling among other things, for the Government to use the substantial financial resources it has available to ensure that education is funded on a needs basis and not through bidding-led mechanisms geared to short-term initiatives. Also high on the agenda were motions on teacher stress and workplace bullying. This last matter has serious implications for the implementation of performance-related pay (PRP) in schools where teachers are already so intimidated by the attitudes of their head teachers that they are unlikely to apply to cross the threshold for fear of failure.
The Teacherline phone counselling service, which has run since last September, has already received more than 7,000 called from stressed and distressed teachers.
The executive priority motion: "Family Friendly Policies and Worktime" was well received and several delegates told heart-rending tales about their home lives.
Loving the job is a concept that seems to have lost out when teachers are working more than 60 hours a week and considerably more when it is their school's turn for the Ofsted inspections.
There was an emergency debate on Asylum and Immigration on the final morning of conference.
The agreed text called on the executive to press for the repeal of recent legislation on asylum and immigration, to inform the Government of our opposition and to campaign for additional resources to support refugees and asylum seekers in our schools. The issue received a lively but harmonised discussion and was carried, after a friendly amendment, by a unanimous vote.
The decision for action to oppose PRP with a ballot for strike action and a call for a special conference later in the year was reached after a fragmented debate.
In his closing address McAvoy, re-elected as general secretary during the past year for what must be his last term of office. showed his dissatisfaction with the decision.
He said he would not try to thwart the will of the conference (the supreme policy making body of the union) by failing to call the ballot.
But he would refuse to "campaign vigorously to ensure a positive yes vote for a strike".
The picture painted by Education Secretary David Blunkett in response to the NUT vote at this conference is of a group of trade union members "turning down the offer of promotion and extra pay simply for doing their job well".
If he insists that PRP is that simple, it is likely he will increase the chance of a yes vote!
He would serve teachers best if he listened to all points made on this matter and paid attention to the growing unhappiness of teachers throughout the profession.
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THE BRITISH government is going to build a £25 million spy centre to monitor criminal gangs through their use of the Internet.
The Government Technical Assistance Centre (GTAC) is likely to be used to unscramble coded Internet messages, tap phones and intercept e-mails.
The Home Office, which confirmed the project last Sunday, said it was at an "early stage".
Details such as when and where it would be built had not yet been decided, officials said. But it has been suggested that GTAC could he sited at the M15 headquarters in London.
Fears have already been expressed that the government could use the centre to increase surveillance of the general public. But the Home Office insist that proper procedures will be followed to monitor communications.
"The suggestion that there will be mass snooping and interception is unwarranted," a Home Office spokeswoman said. "Warrants will have to be obtained for every interception. It's very important that we are competing with criminals and ensuring that law enforcement agencies have got the tools to do the job".
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by Renee Sams in London
A LARGE contingent of workers from the threatened Rover car plant at Longbridge led London's May Day march out of Clerkenwell Green on its way to Trafalgar Square.
Despite the threat of unemployment hanging over their heads, they were in good heart and optimistic that the Phoenix consortium would be able to put together a deal to save their livelihoods.
Shop steward Paul Parsons told the New Worker: "We are not going to go away. We are going to fight for the survival of Rover and the West Midlands. We think that Mr Blair should wake up and realise that this is a working peoples' party."
Another shop steward said: "We are not asking the Government to nationalise but just as Renault in France and Volkeswagen in Germany, this Government should take a stake in Rover."
Also on the 7,000-strong march were workers from the Ford plant in Dagenham which is also under threat of closure; some members of the public sector union Unison; a contingent from the East London Teachers' Association; a large number of Turkish and Kurdish groups; the Communist Party of Britain; the New Communist Party and many individuals celebrating May Day.
Despite the fact that Trafalgar Square is the traditional venue for the march organised by the longstanding May Day Committee, the police stopped the demonstration at the end of the Strand because a very large "anti-capitalist" demonstration was approaching the Square from Whitehall.
Organised on the Internet, the "anti-capitalist" demonstration attracted many thousands of people, filling Whitehall from one end to the other in a "wall-to-wall" march.
But it had a festival atmosphere and earlier in the day, protesters had planted flowers in Parliament Square.
The May Day marchers were quite shocked to see police in riot gear forming a solid cordon, blocking their way to Trafalgar Square.
But they were good tempered and merely stood around while stewards spoke to the police, jeering passing BMW drivers and cheering Rovers.
The march could have remained a happy and peaceful affair, despite a small group that had obviously' planned the trashing of MacDonald's, but for the reaction of the police in completely cordoning off Trafalgar Square and creating a stand-off between the two demonstrations.
But with such a heavy police presence, obviously prepared in full riot gear, trouble was bound to flare up as they started to herd the demonstrators back down Whitehall.
After that, violent clashes were inevitable for the rest of the day, which saw some 67 people arrested and some people, including police officers, in hospital.
by Maisie carter and Dolly Shaer in Trafalgar Square
THOSE New Communist Party members who arrived early in Trafalgar Square to set up a literature stall and await the May Day march were to see a relaxed, celebratory atmosphere transformed into menacing situation by the end of the afternoon.
Banners, stalls from various organisations and a friendly crowd of people all made for a very convivial afternoon.
Much interest was shown in our stall, to quote a Morning Star seller: "You have a good selection of literature here".
Twenty New Workers, several pamphlets and three red flags were sold.
But gradually we became aware of an increasing tension building up. The noise of two police helicopters static overhead, police in riot gear surrounding the Square blocked all the exits and entrances except for Whitehall.
This is where the "protesters against capitalism" were amassed, spilling over the road and into Trafalgar Square, blocking the route of the May Day march.
At about three o'clock a marshall from the march came into the Square and advised us to leave, as the march was not going to get to the Square.
Marchers had been told to disperse but had sat down outside Charing Cross station.
Their anger was understand able, given that they were so near the Square. And why couldn't the police have blocked off Whitehall instead of the Strand so the way would be clear to let the march through to the Square?
May Day in Newcastle by Dick Copland
MAY DAY'S march and rally were different this year. True the march followed the traditional route to the rallying area in Exhibition Park, where the usual tents and stalls flanked the platform for speakers. The buzz of social and political greetings and discussion was all one would expect.
What transformed the occasion was the participation of 200 asylum-seekers (the term used in the literal rather than the tabloid newspaper sense) living in accommodation in the West End of Newcastle.
They formed part of New Labour's programme for dispersal to the regions, if programme is not too grand a term to describe the mishmash of changes and uncertainties with which local authorities and caring agencies have to cope.
The participants -- all young men -- came from Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan and Afghanistan where many longstanding antagonisms are still unresolved.
Preliminary trade union action had persuaded all the groups to work together for solidarity on this occasion.
They responded in full calling, simply but tellingly, for justice as an immediate demand. Newscastle's Saturday morning shoppers may have been a little surprised but displayed no signs of hostility whatsoever.
Several of the rally speakers took up the theme of justice and, in particular, the issue of vouchers for food and other goods -- measures regarded as intolerable.
As Bill Speirs, general secretary of the Scottish TUC, put it: "For a Labour government to be putting anything of that kind out is a disgrace to themselves and to the labour movement."
Compared with recent years, attendance (over and above the asylum seekers) was noticeably up as between 500 and 600 listened to brief but high quality speeches. And there were many issues to comment on.
Bill Speirs reported good progress in trade union recognition in Scotland with over 50 per cent of call centre workers now unionised.
But he gave pride of place to the MSF general union recognition agreement with the Edinburgh Assay Company, founded in 1457 and signing the agreement in 1999.
This was an example, he said to much amusement among his listeners, "of how long-term investment recruitment and organisation pay off at the end of the day"!
Among other speakers was Jack Monedi of the African National Congress, who stressed the importance of international working class solidarity; a representative of the asylum seekers speaking with an interpreter; a warmly received speaker from his wheelchair demanding Government action to improve the quality of life for disabled people and a stirring speech from Ann Hanison who has worked for 20 years for Newcastle City Council in the school meals service.
This service faces a £l million cut with 261 job losses and lower standards resulting from the Government policy of Best Value -- "a dangerously misleading description", she noted, resulting in cut-backs and sackings "all too similar to compulsory competitive tendering under the Tories".
from John Maryon and Eric Trevett in Norwich
MEMBERS of the New Communist Party East Anglia district for the first time ran a stall in Norwich Chapel Cardens, next to the university, in the annual May Day celebrations organised by Norwich trades council.
The event was launched with a short march through the town in which a number of trade union banners were carried.
The comrades described a great day out with live entertainment and a lot of interest in the NCP stall.
Many new contacts were made and the New Worker was well received.
from George Abenstern in Manchester
NEW COMMUNIST Party members in Rochdale held their regular stall at the annual Burnley May Day fair organised by Burnley Trades Council. As ever, the home-made bread proved very popular.
The sun shone on the procession that preceded the fair and on the speakers, who included Bruce Kent.
There were good sales and the CND stall also did very well.
ANTI-capitalist campaigners brought Sheffield to a standstill last weekend in a pedalpower protest against global greed.
They blocked the traffic through the city centre with a slow moving but colourful procession, accompanied by some makeshift musical instruments.
There were some heated exchanges with frustrated motorists but no arrests. On the whole the atmosphere was good.
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