Most of us, whether we live in towns and cities or in villages and tiny hamlets have no reason to eye each other with suspicion and hostility. On the contrary, we have every reason to stand together in the face of a wealthy capitalist class which exploits and us all, wherever we live and work.
The exploiting class and their lackeys in the media never miss a chance to muddy the waters about the nature of our class divided society nor do they explain where the root of our problems lie -- with the capitalist class and its brutish, selfish and anti-social system.
Much was made in the run-up to last Sunday' Countryside March about the plight of many farmers and small farmers hit by the effects of the BSE crisis and the relatively strong pound. These are undoubtedly real problems.
But aren't these much the same difficulties that have faced small businesses in general -- of which thousands have gone to the wall since the late 1980s? The are all victims of the capitalist system, which is driven towards monopolisation and which favours big business, including big agri-business, at the expense of small firms, small farms and all workers.
Farmworkers are notoriously low paid. The landowner bosses grow fat on the backs of the low wages they pay their employees. Country people certainly not one big happy family whose main enemy is the Labour government and the people from the cities.
Low paid workers, whether they plough fields in Lincolnshire or make ready-meals in Southall, have more in common with each other than either group of workers has with their respective bosses.
In the same way the biglandowners and big industrialists have more in common with each other either group has with those whose labour they exploit -- indeed, many shareholders have investments in a range of enterprises, rural and urban and make their profits from the labour of workers in town and country.
Town and country is a false divide -- the working class is one!
THE government wants us to think the increase in NHS prescription charges will, like a doctor's needle, only hurt a bit because the rise is small. But this disgraceful measure is yet another attack on workers in employment -- particularly the low paid.
The rich will hardly notice the rise. The government front-bench will hardly notice the rise. But families whose incomes are just above the level to qualify for income support will feel real pain.
This here-we-go-again practice of taxing the sick is indefensible, particularly as the transnational drugs companies that supply the NHS are loaded. It is the super profits of these and all the other huge companies that should suffer a rise in taxation and the money raised ploughed back into the health service and the dther cuts-ravaged public services.
Prescription charges are contrary to the very spirit of the NHS. There is, after all, little point in making it possible for everyone to visit a doctor if the recommended treatment cannot be afforded.
It is already the case that some patients who need several items on a prescription take only part of their treatment home from the chemist's shop because they cannot afford the full list. These patients need all their medicines not just some of them and are almost certainly suffering unnecessarily because of their low income. Furthermore, this situation is likely to create more problems sooner or later and put patients back in the doctor's waiting room.
This will not do Mr Blair! We demand better of a Labour government and protest at this outrageous and mean act.
Yet this week the Labour government decided again to follow in Tory footsteps and raise prescription charges, from £5.65 to £5.80 per item. They even chose the Tory back-door method of bringing in the change -- in answer to a parliamentary question rather than allowing open debate on the rise on the floor of the House of Commons.
When the Tories did the same thing in 1996, Harriet Harman, now Social Security Secretary, said: "It's typical of the Tories to sneak this increase by the back door. The Tories haven't got the courage of their own convictions.
"Rather than debating the increase in the Commons, they have pushed it through via a written parliamentary answer ... this is another hidden tax rise."
And she then correctly described rising prescription charges as a tax on the sick. Health Secretary Frank Dobson is arguing that it is the lowest rise in percentage terms since 1981 and that it is under the rate of inflation.
Yet prescription charges have soared way above inflation throughout the Tory years since 1979.
As Chris Smith said last year: "Prescription charges have increased almost 100 per cent in real terms -- up from 20p in 1979 to £5.65 today".
The new rise is being brought in before the Labour government's review on health spending has been completed. It is due to present its conclusions next summer.
The increase has caused some alarm among Labour backbenchers. David Hinchcliffe, who chairs the Commons health committee, said: "There are a significant number of people who do not get free prescriptions who face severe hardship as a consequence of the cost of prescriptions.
"I would remain concerned that this increase would affect a significant number of people who in many instances, because of hardship, choose not to cash in their prescriptions."
And he added: "If people do not accept treatment that could be provided by their GP, you could have people being admitted for more serious treatment in hospital at greater cost.
"I do not think it's a financially sensible policy to keep increasing the price of prescriptions."
General practitioners write around 500 prescriptions a year and 80 per cent of them go to those sections of the community who are still entitled to free prescriptions; pregnant women, children, pensioners and those on benefits or very low incomes.
So, over the years, the Tories have tried to recoup some of the costs by laying a heavier and heavier burden on those who are reckoned to be able to pay.
But many of these people are only just above the minimum level
It is estimated that around half the prescriptions dispensed actually cost less than the £5.80 being charged.
But chemists are not allowed to sell the medicines to patients in a private transaction at their real price.
Pharmacist Allan Sharpe from Newbridge in Gwent clashed with the law on this point in 1995 when he began selling patients the same preparations that are in their prescriptions atthe cheaper, market price.
The British Medical Association, the Association of Community Health Councils and the Patients' Association have all expressed concern at the latest rise.
BMA secretary Dr Mac Armstrong said there are reports that patients are beginning to question their ability to pay for essential drugs.
"A further increase would act as a further disincentive to collect the treatment they need.
"The BMA believes there should be a fundamental review of the system of prescription charges.
"The current system is inequitable and full of anomalies relating to exemption and non-exemption."
And the public sector union Unison has criticised it. The union's health spokesperson Bob Atherly said: "People on the threshold of poverty are already put off taking prescribed pills and medicine. They face further distress and dilemma.
"Rather than taxing the sick, we would expect a Labour government to look at ways of spreading the costs more fairly."
The total NHS drugs bill is of course astronomical. But a lot
of this money goes as profits to the giant, transnational drug companies.
If these were nationalised the total bill would be considerably reduced
-- by a lot more than this rise in prescription charges will raise.
The march was organised by the "Countryside Alliance" whose main aim is to defend fox hunting.
There was certainly some money behind the event with fleets of coaches laid on from all parts of rural Britain and publicity throughout the media.
And those who filled the coaches seemed to have dozens of different reasons for being there, including the way that the BSE crisis has affected farming, opposing the right to ramble, the current high value of the pound which is affecting exports, insufficient European Union subsidies to farming and the ban on hand-guns.
The wealthy vested interests who have contributed to the costs of the event include the Dukes of Devonshire and Westminster.
The blame for all this is put on the Labour government and people who live in towns.
The organisers are calling for a lot less government regulation over the way they farm, the way they treat animals, the various food stuffs, fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals they use.
But they want subsidies from the EU -- which will have to be matched from the pockets of taxpayers in Britain. And they want the right to regulate where the public is entitled to roam and ramble.
The march has been given a lot of coverage in the bourgeois media with claims that it is the biggest demonstration since the CND marches of the early 80s.
This is not true. The demonstrations against the poll tax and the closure of Britain's coal mines were just as big -- but they did not get nearly so much media coverage.
Generally speaking single demonstrations, however big, seem to cut little ice with governments. It normally takes years of campaigning at all levels and in many arenas to move government.
Yet already Tony Blair is respending to this march by backtracking both on the prospects of a ban on fox hunting and the right-to-roam legislation which has been postponed for several years.
Working class people who live in the countryside do indeed have many real grievances.
Their communities have been run down, shops, post offices, schools and other amenities have disappeared. Public transport has been cut, privatised and deregulated.
Major agri-business has rooted up hedgerows to make prairies of our landscape and built monstrously ugly factory farming sheds, silos and other buildings wherever it pleased.
But none of these things can be blamed on the current Labour government and certainly not on ordinary people who live in towns.
Indeed the class behind the organisation of the march has far more responsibility for the despoilation of the countryside than the people they are blaming.
The agricultural section of the Transport and General Workers' Union recognises the vast difference of interests between the wealthy farmers and landowners on one hand and the agricultural workers and small farmers on the other.
TGWU agricultural secretary Barry Leathwood told the New Worker: "We opposed the rally and we were not present.
"It was organised by the pro-fox hunters. We dissociate ourselves totally from them.
"There are big problems in the countryside -- the cuts in buses housing, the isolation and so on.
"These really do need to be addressed and we have been campaigning for years on these issues.
"Some farmes have real problems, especially the small hill farmers.
"There is a huge amount of public money being put into farming. We are not opposed to this but much of it is misdirected.
"Most of it, 80 per cent, goes to just 20 per cent of farms -the big wealthy farmers.
"The small farms on marginal land get very little and are in serious difficulties.
"We are for an environmental imperative to go with the subsidies, not just productivity criteria.
"For example, some Welsh sheep farmers are over grazing their land. They need the extra money There is a real need to keep these farms going, they play an important role."
But Barry Leathwood explained that some of those on the march
were agricultural workers -- present under duress from their employers.
Nevertheless the march was not at all representative of the rural population of this country. A Mori poll of marches found that 80 per cent were Tory voters and only seven per cent were Labour voters.
It carried echoes of the League of Housewives, a movement which grew up in the early 50s opposed to the Labour government. When the Tories were re-elected it disappeared.
The Countryside Alliance is a creation of the most reactionary sections of the ruling class who feel threatened even by Tony Blair's boss-friendly New Labour.
The Electoral Commission has declared that the BJP slate has won 242 out of the 545 seats in parliament with 23 seats still to be decided on. The BJP position was strengthened by its new alliance with the main Tamil party in Tamil Nadu and they are noted for their anti-Muslim Hindu nationaliststand in a country where Islam remains the biggest single religious minority. BJP leaders also talk of making India a nuclear-power -- a move which would heighten tension with Pakistan and her other neighbours.
Congress, which dominated India for decades retained 167 seats and the left-supported United Front won 98. Congress leaders and United Front politicians are holding talks now to see if they can cobble together a platform which could also bring in the smaller parties to keep the BJP out.
Traditionally the block with the largest number of seats is given the first chance to form a government but President K R Narayanan will also have to consider whether the BJP and its allies can reasonably expect to form a government which can survive if all the other parties combine to bring them down.
And the BJP may find that its new allies are summer soldiers who will soon desert if the price is high enough. Some of the bigger ones are already sounding out Congress including the Tamil leaders in the south.
BJP boss Lal Krishna Advani is already talking about victory. But in the Congress camp hopes are rising of a new deal to keep them out.
Congress general-secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad predicted that the new government would be formed by a coalition between his party and the United Front. "The BJP and its allies have been mightily rejected by the voters," he declared. And these hopes are fired by reports that two of the biggest parties in the United Front -- the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Samajwadi Party, which champions the lower-castes -- have already agreed to back a Congress-led coalition.
During the election the two major Indian communist parties -- the CPI(M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) -- campaigned in support of the United Front.
Should the BJP form the new government many fear it will give the green light to Hindu extremists and lead to communal violence which could tear the country apart. The right-wing block is an enthusiastic supporter of the caste system and the feudal landlords who dominate many of the rural areas.
Though the BJP has toned down its anti-muslim rhetoric in recent years its claim to support the "diversity of India" was dented by the statement by Ashok Singhal of the extremist Viswa Hindu Parishad who boasted that the pulling down of more mosques "remains very much on the agenda of the VHP once a BJP government assumes office".
The Indian economy is stagnating, a victim of the worldwide capitalist slump. The rupee is drifting downwards and the Reserve Bank of India was forced to intervene nine times in January to try and stall the rupee's decline.
Little divides the BJP and Congress on the question of the economy. The BJP is an openly capitalist and land-owners party, Congress has long dumped the welfarism it once embraced in the past. Both accept the imperialist demands of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which exclusively serve the interests of international capitalism.
But the BJP is by far the worst of the two options facing the
Indian President today, as far as the people are concerned. Whether a Congress-led
coalition can fare better will ultimately depend on the ability of the
two major communist forces, the CPI(M) and the CPI along with the other
communist, socialist and progressive movements in mobilising mass support
around policies which defend the interests of India's workers and peasants.
No one could have missed seeing and hearing the colourful march which was led by an impressive band of Indian drummers followed by the banners of several trade unions, local trades councils, the Indian Workers' Association, the New Communist Party and other organisations. The sacked Hillingdon Hospital workers were there, in full voice, to support the Noon workers in their struggle for trade union recognition.
General workers' union (GMB) general secretary, John Edmonds, walked with the marchers to a rally at the local Dominion Centre.
The Centre's large hall was packed out. Workers from Noon Products, who had given up their lunch break to attend the rally, joined the hundreds of supporters and well-wishers.
"We are here", said GMB National President, Mary Turner, "to show Mr Noon that workers have rights the same as he does. We will not go away from this issue until we win the right for all workers to belong to a union".
The workers could hardly have a stronger case. Virtually all the production workers at Noon's factory voluntarily joined the GMB last October. But Noons has so far refused to meet with GMB officials or to recognise the union at all.
It was not surprising that the speech by a Noons shop steward, got a standing ovation -- the whistles and cheers almost lifted the roof. He spoke quietly, outlining the grievances of the workers and the struggle that was taking place.
He described the paternalistic attitude of Mr Noon who is fond
of telling workers that "we are a family" -- "but", said brother Taher,
"what kind of family is it that won't let you attend a funeral?"
The issue of trade union recognition is, of course, of fundamental concern to all trade unionists -- a point underlined by the participation of Brendan Barber, deputy general secretary of the TUC. "I am proud to bring solidarity from the TUC", he told the audience.
Mr Barber rebutted Mr Noon's assertion that the introduction of a trade union into his factory would be just a "third party". "He is wrong", said Mr Barber, "the union is not a third party. The workers are the union -you are the union!"
Referring to the long awaited legislation that will give workers the right to join a union, Mr Barber said," we cannot just wait for the law to change, this could take months. Mr Noon has said he would obey the law when it comes in. But Mr Noon could change things now."
The audience welcomed Labour MEP for Uxbridge, Robert Evans, who also brought solidarity greetings from his colleague, London West's MEP, Michael Elliott.
Mr Evans pointed out that "companies that don't recognise trade unions also lose out". "The right to join a trade union is a human right", he said.
GMB general secretary John IEdmonds remarked that the person who was missing from the rally was Mr Noon himself. "He should be here", he said " to thank you for making that factory a success.
"He should accept your rights and he should accept those rights this afternoon".
Referring to Labour's promised legislation on trade union recognition Mr Edmonds went on: "It would be a pleasure to me if this were the last recognition dispute". We hope so too!