The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 5th September, 1997

Workers of all countries, unite!


Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition

Please feel free to use this material provided the New Worker is informed and credited.


Editorial - No to a privacy law.
Lead Story - Are we ready to fight?
Feature - NHS to end health visitor service.
International - Algerian drive against terror gangs.
British News - Train firm to cut a quarter of services.



Editorial


No to a privacy law.


THE DEATH last Sunday of Princess Diana in Paris when her speeding car overturned while trying to evade press photographers has led to renewed demands from some Tory politicians in this country for even tighter controls on the British press.

We don't need a new "privacy act". Britain's draconian libel laws, together with the Official Secrets Act, already muzzle the media in ways unknown even in France or the United States. In fact that very Sunday, the Official Secrets Act was used to prevent a newspaper from publishing more revelations by a renegade member of the secret police.

It's no surprise that the loudest calls for greater press censorship are coming from those Tory politicians exposed in the sex and sleaze scandals of a Major government which hypocritically preached "Victorian morality" to the masses.

These calls must be resisted whatever one may think about the antics of the paparazzi and the editors of the tabloid newspapers and magazines who fill their pages with gossip about the empty lives of rich parasites and their hangers-on to divert working people away from their daily lives of misery and exploitation.

The millionaire publishers who control most of the media in this country defend themselves by claiming that they are simply meeting public demand for intrusive photos and scandal about royalty, celebrities and the very rich.

This may well be true as far as it goes. It is equally true that the public would also like to read more about the antics of M15 from their former agent David Shayler. But that has been suppressed, at least for the time being.

Ultimately the British media is controlled by the ruling class, through the press barons and the state itself. They say we have "freedom of speech". From time to time, differences within the ruling class are reflected in the columns of their newspapers and magazines. Sometimes junior politicians are thrown to the wolves to try and divert public anger against the government of the day. Occasionally, maverick pundits and clergymen are allowed to express contrary views in their journals and on their television.

But when the chips are down they all close ranks around their class line. During the miners' strike in the 1980s Arthur Scargill and the NUM leadership were victims of a hate campaign aimed at breaking the strike and forcing the miners to their knees.

During the massive campaign against Cruise and Trident prominent peace campaigners were ridiculed and smeared by the bosses' media. Throughout the Cold War the Soviet Union and the socialist countries were a target of a ceaseless campaign of lies to justify the arms race and imperialism's crimes all round the world -- a campaign which continues against People's China, Democratic Korea and Cuba today.

When the Gulf War raged the media, led by the state's own BBC, justified the criminal invasion of Iraq with a torrent of lies about Saddam Hussein and his government. Little is said now about the half-million Iraqi children who have died because of the cruel Western blockade of their country still enforced seven years later.

This is all we can expect of the media under capitalism. Nor can we realistically argue for any "reform" of the media which could make it more accessible or responsible to democratic forces any more than we can expect capitalism to reform itself out of existence.

We must resist all attempts to further curb the media, which includes the labour movement press. We must demand a freedom of information act and we must campaign for an end to the libel laws which are there solely to protect and serve the rich and powerful.

But the only way we can combat the bosses lie machine with all its distractions, smears and distortions is through the working class press we still possess. The right-wing of the Labour Party and the trade union movement long ago dumped the Daily Herald but we still have the left daily Morning Star and a handful of weeklies, including our own New Worker.

The fight for peace and socialism is clearly linked to the struggle to build the labour movement and communist press. We can only rely on our own resources, that of the working class, to do it, but do it we must.

Back to index



Lead Story


Are we ready to fight?


by Daphne Liddle

FUTURE historians could look back on the 1997 TUC conference, in Brighton, as a watershed in the fortunes of trade unionism and working class power in Britain.

Many attending may doubt this and feel cynically that all the big decisions have already been taken behind closed doors, that their unions are hopelessly dominated by entrenched right-wing leaderships and that the Labour government is not likely to listen to their demands anyway.

Yet there are real opportunities to begin to make significant difference for those who are ready to fight, to refuse to accept this situation and who are ready for the long-term struggle needed to change it.

For the first time in 19 years, the TUC meets under a Labour government. Many will say that its policies are not much different to those of the Tories.

There are some differences. The GCHQ workers have had their union rights restored and there are one or two other minor improvements.

But it is the general election result itself that is of potentially historic significance. It showed that masses of ordinary people in this country want change and are not too cynical and demoralised to do something about it.

This desire, on such as mass scale, can be a real instrument in achieving that change if only we can mobilise it and turn it into organised collective action.

This is the power that one day could defeat not only right-wing leaderships in the unions and the Labour Party but the whole rotten system of capitalism that produces such leaderships.

That mobilisation cannot be done in one week, or even a year. But, as the proverb says, if we don't start now, then when?

The fight to defend jobs and job security is vital. The bosses use those thrown out of work and forced into the widening margins of the country's workforce - where jobs are short-term, casual, low-paid and insecure -- to undermine the security, wages and conditions of the rest.

Increasingly those forced into these margins are dependent on various benefits to survive, saving the bosses millions in wages bills.

The bosses may be going through a short-term near-boom period but unemployment figures remain high and wages are being held down.

The fight for higher wages must be raised. Most of the debates will feature around a minimum wage and what level it should be set at.

But that is not enough. The fight must be stepped up at all levels. Many bosses will simply see the minimum as what they can legally get away with and find ways of fiddling to actually pay most workers near or even under it.

Just this July, the construction workers' union Ucatt secured a building and civil engineers settlement, through negotiation with the Construction Confederation, that gives ordinary workers just 4 an hour and skilled workers only 4.83. Not nearly enough!

No statutory wage level is a substitute for a strong and fighting union movement and free collective bargaining.

But free collective bargaining depends on Labour being forced to scrap the Tories' anti-trade union laws.

Labour will not do anything of the sort unless pushed, very hard. But we know there are millions of people out there who want that change and many more.

It is the historic task of the labour movement to lead the workers to make that push.

Labour promised to grant a legal guarantee of union recognition and is now stalling on that promise.

The latest edition of Labour Research points out that 90 per cent of Britain's biggest employers already have some form of union recognition, "so what's the problem" in bringing in laws to back this up?

The real problem is that a growing proportion of the working class is employed by smaller finns, and on short-term contract or part-time.

It is in this sector that the protection of the unions is most desperately needed but is hardest to achieve against the greediest bosses -- who are themselves in effect sub-contractors to the big boys and very vulnerable to market forces.

But it is in this very sector that the American trade union movement has achieved a transformation that has lifted the whole movement and achieved successes like the recent victory at UPS. It can be done.

The American unionists used specially trained young task forces to recruit among the most disadvantaged workers and their successes are inspiring.

Earlier this year the TUC recognised the importance of this example and set up its own New Unionism Task Group, headed by Tony Burke, deputy general secretary of the print union GPMU.

It will be interesting to hear the report from this group next week.

The grip of the right-wing leaderships is not nearly so solid as it was. They themselves are at odds with the Labour Party leaderships who want to break union links with the party and this would undermine their own infuence.

There are real opportunities now for the first time in two decades. We must seize them.

And we must seize the opportunity to demand a British withdrawal from Ireland to let the people of that country get on with their own affairs free from interference.

Back to index



Feature


NHS to end health visitor service.


by Caroline Colebrook

CAMBRIDGE and Huntingdon Health Authority last week announced that it plans to scrap the universal health visitor service and replace it with community nursing teams who will target only families seen as being in need.

And many other health authorities are considering following suit, in a desperate attempt to balance budgets and cope with increasing numbers of emergency and acute cases. They include Cornwall, Hertfordshire, Berkshire, Brent and Harrow.

The health visitor service began in 1896 and developed into scheme whereby a highly trained nurse visited every mother of a new born baby in her home and gave advice on every aspect of caring for that baby.

This was followed either by more regular visits or an arrangement for the mother to visit a nearby clinic on a regular basis for the baby's progress to be monitored.

There were regular check on weight, eyesight, hearing and all other aspects of development and various inoculations were administered.

At one time free vitamin supplements were given out and a range of very low cost formula milk and other essential baby foods were available.

The service provided support for families in difficulties and picked up cases of neglect and abuse. And it provided a point of social contact for young mothers, who were otherwise often quite isolated, with the nurses and with other mothers.

Now the service is being replaced with teams of nurses, operating from doctors' surgeries, who will target only these farnilies deemed to be in need.

This will mean that many problems and cases of neglect will go undetected until too late.

Mothers may not spot warning signs of a developing problem as quickly as a trained nurse. And those who are targeted by the new teams may feel humiliated to have been deemed in special need, whereas there was no shame in making full use of a service provided for everyone.

Many mothers have used the health visitor service to answer queries and doubts they felt were too trivial to ask of a doctor -- but which could be important.

And it is not just needy mothers who have problems. Many well off women do not automatically know how to care for their children and can be just as neglectful as poorer women.

But they will not want to use a service provided only "for the needy".

Ian Roberts, director of the Institute of Child Health, said the proposals to cut the service are "potentially very short-sighted".

"There is strong evidence," he said,'that home-based social support, like that provided by health visitors, improves the health outcomes of families with children.

"There are particularly important benefits for socially disadvantaged mothers and their children.

"Evidence suggests, in particular, a potential for significantly reduced rates of childhood injury, and studies in the United States suggest immunisation programmes are more successful when supported by home visits."

And a Cambridge University criminology professor, David Fanington, claims that intensive health visiting can prevent juvenile crime.

The university's psychology department has done research that shows the benefits of health visitors intervening in the detection and treatment of post-natal depression.

Mary Daly, speaking on behalf of the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association, said: "They are axing the very service that can deliver the government's public health objectives.

"There is now a real risk that meant people in need will simply fall through the net."

But perhaps what should concern us most about this decision is that it has not been made actively by the government and is not part of any general policy strategy.

The Tory breakup of the health service means that decisions like this are now made at a local level and are driven purely by the desperate need to cut spending to fall within government-imposed budgets.

So the government, Tory or Labour, can wash its hands and claim it has nothing to do with the decision, while making it impossible for local health authorities to do anything else.

We must not let the Labour govemment get away with this. We must make our MPs accountable for these cuts.

There are many plans afoot to lobby the forthcoming Labour conference in Brighton, with a fringe meeting on NHS issues organised by Hands Off Greenwich NHS on Wednesday 1 October at 6.30pm at the Dudley Hotel, Lansdowne Place, Hove.

Be there if you possibly can but in any case, write to your MP demanding that the health visitor service be continued as a provision for all mothers and that funding is made available to support.

Back to index


International


Algerian drive against terror gangs.


by our Arab Affairs Correspondent

A LEADING Algerian terrorist has been killed together with 46 members of his his gang by government troops in a new drive against the Islamic fundamentalist terror gangs who killed nearly a thousand people last week.

The leader of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) Mustafa Akal, was gunned down in battle with security forces who were on maximum mobilisation. This followed the worst week of bloodshed in the struggle to end a campaign of terror which has claimed over 60,000 lives in the past five years. But one of the leaders of the Islamic opposition has been placed under home arrest after sending all open appeal to end the bloodshed to the United Nations.

Algeria was stunned by the news of the massacre of some 300 men, women and children in Rais, south of Algiers, by fundamentalist gangs. Some had been beheaded and the others had their throats cut. Hundreds more were killed in massacres and bomb attacks carried out by Islamic groups trying to topple President Liamine Zeroual's government which was swept to power last June.

There has been world-wide condemnation of last week's atrocities from Algeria's Arab partners, the Vatican and the United Nations.

In Rome the Pope said he was appalled at the killings and prayed for the end of "such an unjustifiable spiral of violence". Federico Mayor, the head of UNESCO, condemned "the unqualified and unjustified barbarism which has hit the people of Algeria". And this was echoed by UN Secretary-General Koli Annan, who said: "The world cannot stand by and let this happen". Annan said the violence in Algeria was worrying "and can no longer be considered an internal affair for that country".

In 1992 General Zeroual led an army take-over following controversial elections which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) claimed to have won. Many FIS leaders were arrested and armed revolt soon followed, led by shadowy Islamic groups which many Algerians believe are secretly funded by Saudi Arabia. Zeroual has since built up a civilian coalition including former members of the old ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) and Algeria's progressive forces which won the elections last summer vowing to crush the terrorists.

They have hall some success. In July the man believed to be GIA's leader was killed by government forces and the death of his successor this week is a further blow to a group responsible for some of the worst massacres in the conflict.

Premier Ahmad Ouyahia vowed that "the beast of terrorism would be eradicated from Algeria". But all efforts to reach an understanding with some of the more moderate leaders of the Islamic opposition have always foundered.

illegal The Islamic Salvation Front remains illegal under new laws which ban all parties based on religious or separatist platforms. But in July some of their leaders, including Abassi Madani, were released from prison as a gesture of reconciliation.

He has now been placed under house arrest for violating the terms of his release by returning to political activity. Madani sent an open letter to the United Nations which urged the UN to "open a serious dialogue" to end the civil war. Madani also said that he was "ready to launch an appeal to bring an immediate end to the bloodbath".

The Algerian government is understandably wary at any attempt to internationalise the crisis which they see as a purely internal Algerian problem. While they have received some economic assistance from France, they also know that other Western powers are lobbying for a settlement which would bring at least some of the Islamic opposition into the government.

The six year struggle has seriously weakened Algeria, once a staunch supporter of the non-aligned movement and the Palestinian resistance. Algeria was also a major supporter of the Polisario movement, whose struggle aganst Morocco for self-determination for Western Sahara has now been largely reduced to unsuccessful diplomatic appeals to the UN.
Back to index



British News


Train firm to cut a quarter of services


THE PRIVATISED rail company Connex South Central last week announced cuts of up to 25 per cent of it's services when it published its winter timetable. This will involve some 500 trains a week in one of the busiest commuter areas of Britain.

Connex South Central covers routes from London Bridge and Victoria, through south London to the coast.

The company, owned by the French Generale des Eaux, said it regretted making the cuts but they are legal because the services were over and above the minimum guaranteed to the rail franchise director.

This will cut little ice with commuters and other travellers who face longer waits and far more crowded trains.

And it will hardly help the Labour government in its declared intention to try to persuade people to abandon their cars in favour of public transport. Ministers are considering intervening.

The London Regional Passengers' Committee has lodged a strong complaint to the company. Committee chairperson Sir Alan Greengross said: "We are deeply concerned at the impact on passengers, who need these vital commuter services.

"It flies in the face of everything the company has promised. This is the new winter timetable but we hope it is not too late for it to be changed."

The company last year received a government subsidy of 92 million. It tried to blame the cuts on a continuing dispute with the train drivers' union Aslef. But the general view is that poor management is to blame.

Rail travel in Britain is now the most expensive in the world, according to a survey published last week.

And in addition to the costs involved, it is the most complicated. The break up of our rail network into 25 different companies means travellers have to pick their way hrough 25 different timetables and fare pricing systems to get about.

The survey was conducted by the Union Bank of Switzerland which also found that London has the dearest hotels in the world.

It found that the average cost of a 120-mile journey in Britain costs about twice as much as it would in France, three times as much as in Italy and 15 times as much for a similar journey in Turkey.

The rail watchdog Opraf has dismissed the survey but rail users have welcomed it.

Speaking on behalf of the pressure group Save Our Railways, Jonathan Bray said: "The problem is that basic rail fares have been very high for a long time.

"Our railways are simply not as heavily subsidised as in other countries. Before privatisation the Tories wanted British Rail to reduce the degree to which it relied on subsidies.

"They preached that passengers must pay for the cost of the provision of the service.

"Only Inter-City achieved that and even made a profit, the only one of its kind to do so in Europe."

And Mel Holley, editor of Rail magazine, said: "Historically in other countries the railways are seen as assets of the nation and they continue to receive much higher subsidies."

* Residents of Woking in Surrey have protested to Railtrack -- the privatised company that owns Britain's railway tracks, signals, stations and so on -after their recent bank holiday was totally ruined by the noise of major engineering works that continued round the clock for more than three days.

In the area affected no one was able to sleep for that entire period.

The round-the-clock working was in breach of all noise pollution regulations.

Back to index



To the New Communist Party Page