The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 6th June, 1997

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Editorial - France and the Euro.
Lead Story - We want real jobs and decent wages.
Feature - Blunkett appoints Tory school inspector Woodhead.
International - France cheers Left victory.
British News - Trident reaches Downing Street.


France and the Euro

THE defeat of France's right wing government showed that the strikes and protest marches of the past two years were not isolated events but signs of a deep and widespread discontent.

French workers have been increasingly angered by high unemployment, now estimated at 12.8 per cent, and the draconian social spending cuts, largely, but not solely, imposed by the former government to meet the conditions for joining the Single European Currency.

This problem is not of course peculiar to France. The other European Union's governments have also sought to put the burden of achieving monetary union onto the backs of working people. Social spending cuts have afflicted the EU's working class like an epidemic.

In Britain the belt-tightening has been going on for many years. We were the first EU country to embark, under Margaret Thatcher, on a programme of wholesale privations -- a measure which contributed to high unemployment. We have also suffered year in, year out, cuts in local and national social spending.

But the protests against these measures in Britain were also spread out over a long period -- battles to save hospitals, schools, services, benefits and public sector jobs have occupied local and labour movement activists for nearly two decades.

In France and Germany the savage austerity programmes came later and faster sending shock waves through the working class. These policies were therefore closely identified with the Maastricht Treaty and its criteria for the Single Currency.

The newly elected French socialist leader Lionel Jospin says his government will lift the burden of savage cuts and, if necessary, seek to ease the entry criteria for monetary union. The French communists, who are expected to join Jospin in government, are opposed to the current plan for a Single Currency.

This has raised speculation in some capitalist newspapers that France might wreck the whole monetary union ship, or at least delay its sailing date. Opponents of the EU and those who are unhappy about further integration may be hoping that this will happen.

But the Single Currency, far less the EU itself, will not be defeated just by cheering the new French government from the sidelines.

The election victory for the left in France is undoubtedly very good news. Like the Labour victory in Britain it has pushed the favoured party of the ruling class out of office.

But it should be remembered that the French left got into the European bed a long time ago. Even the communists, who don't like the plan for a Single Currency, do not oppose France's membership of the EU -- they show little desire to fight the Treaty of Rome.

The complexion of the new government will be social democratic and reformist. It will,at most, only try to minimise the attacks on the working class by a process of lowering the Maastricht criteria or slowing down its timetable. The dream of the most powerful capitalists in Europe -- the Single Currency and the eventual European State -- will surely survive such reforms.

And, of course, Britain's new government is committed to the EU and the Maastricht Treaty.

But this doesn't mean the working class of Europe might as well raise the white flag and succumb to the grand design of the leading sections of Europe's capitalist class.

We should reject the defeatist arguments put by some on the left to accept the EU as being here to stay and that we'd better make the best of a bad job and learn how to use its structures to out advantage -- the only fight, they argue, should be against the Single Currency.

If we go down this path, we might as well say that capitalism is here to stay and that all we can do is learn to accommodate ourselves to it.

As communists we recognise the necessity and inevitability of change. If we accept that the eventual defeat of capitalism is possible, then it is certainly possible to reverse the anti-working class and anti-democratic set up that is the EU.

But the fight has to be waged on a class basis. Campaigns based on nationalism and reformist half measures will not expose the capitalist nature and purpose of the EU. Nor will they be able to galvanise the organised working class into root and branch opposition to the Treaty of Rome itself.

In any case, xenophobic arguments need to be rejected as they are laden with barely concealed racist ideas and serve to weaken the vital principle of international worlking class solidarity.

We welcome the French election victory while carrying forward the fight in Britain.
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Lead Story

We want real jobs and decent wages

PRIME MINISTER Tony Blair's message was well and truly sugarcoated when he set out some of the government's plans for "welfare reform" at last week's highly publicised visit to a south London housing estate.

Tony Blair said his government was offering a "new bargain" that would help the "forgotten millions" get back into work He declared there would be "no no-hope areas" in the "new Britain" and went on to announce that the government would produce its "welfare to work" budget on 2 July.

But underneath the caring sound bites lies the government's desire to control and reduce Britain's 100 billion a year social security budget.

Downing Street officials confirmed that prior to Tony Blair's south London visit he had discussed the subject of welfare "reforms" with United States President Bill Clinton during his visit to London last week.

As expected, Tony Blair announced further details of his government's plan to use money raised by levying a one-off windfall tax on privatised utility companies to provide jobs or training for 250,000 unemployed young people This idea had been outlined in Labour' s election manifesto.

The plan offers unemployed people under 25 years of age one of four options: "quality jobs" in the private sector, work in a new environmental task force; work with a voluntary organisation or a full-time education and training course for learning basic skills.

Private sector employers who offer jobs and training will get a tax rebate (expected to be worth around 60 per week) for six months. The young people will be paid a wage equivalent to benefits plus a fixed sum. They will also be entitled to either inwork training or day release education.

But it will be the employers who stand to gain the most. The low wages being offered to the young workers, coupled with the tax rebate from the government, will enable them to benefit from six months of really cheap labour.

The workers, on the other hand, are not guaranteed long-term work at the end of the scheme, although some may be lucky, and they are likely to be earning less than other workers doing similar jobs.

People who refuse all the options will have their benefit stopped.

The government says it will take advice from a new task force including business people, representatives from the voluntary sector, environmental groups and academics and educators.

Why have the trade unions not been invited? Surely, with the prospect of thousands of workers doing jobs for little more than benefit levels, the trade union movement should have its views canvassed too.

Older people who have been unemployed for over two years will be offered a similar scheme with the same penalties. Employers who offer work under this arrangement will receive a 75 a week subsidy from the government.

Single unemployed parents cannot be compe lied to take jobs. But it is thought that one of the government's welfare measures, currently being drawn up by Frank Held MP, will make it compulsory for all single unemployed parents to attend job centres for "restart" interviews.

But the government can't ignore the fact that ifsingle parents are to get jobs something has to be done about the chronic lack of good quality, affordable, child-care.

There is talk of using lottery money to fund "homework clubs" and extra school provision to cater for school age children with working single parents. But this will not address the needs of parents with pre-school children or match the "flexible" working patterns that are so commonplace today.

There are not even enough places available in nursery schools for all three-year-olds yet.

Nor is the government addressing the fundamental issue of low pay -- even the proposed figures for a minimum wage are still very inadequate and would not cover the costs of day nurseries or babysitting.

Many workers are still caught in a poverty trap in which the wages they are offered are not enough to pay the rent and support a family. There is certainly not enough money in most family budgets to pay for private childcare as well.

After all, most two-parent families find it hard to make ends meet if one parent stays at home to look after young children.

Frank Feild recently told the Social Market Foundation conference that "the age of the quiet taxpayer is peacefully drawing to a close". His words are very revealing since keeping income tax low is a major concern of the Blair government.

Since 1979 the wealthiest people have enjoyed a huge tax bonanza from massive cuts in the top rates of income tax. The poorest people have been made worse off by increases in VAT. A policy of progressive taxation that does not penalise working people but shifts the burden onto the rich minority should be introduced.

There are other measures the government could take to increase the number of real jobs at decent rates of pay.

For instance, government investment in the public sector would not only create proper jobs but it would benefit society by helping to build new homes, restore out crumbling schools, improve the badly maintained infrastructure of our towns and cities and revive our under-staffed public services.

This would raise revenues, save money currently spent on benefits, raise the standard of living of many and would last longer than a few months. It would also improve the environment and the quality of life for the majority of people.

The unemployed have been badly treated for too long. It is not the fault of working class people that jobs have gone -- that is down to the capitalist class and the rotten system.
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Blunkett appoints Tory school inspector Woodhead

by Caroline Colebrook

EDUCATION Secretary David Blunkett angered teachers throughout England and Wales last week by re-appointing the Tories' protege Chris Woodhead to remain as chief inspector of schools.

His decision provoked an immediate and unanimous vote of no confidence in Chris Woodhead from the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in Scarborough.

Mr Woodhead provoked outrage among teachers by declaring tha the estimated some 15,000 of them are incompetent and he intended to weed them out.

This was at a time when most teachers were making heroic efforts to maintain standards in the face of year upon year of cuts in resources and growing class sizes.

Mr Woodhead also made the ridiculous claim that class size made no difference to the quality of a child's education.

And he was particularly disliked for adhering to a Tory ideology of elitism in education in his post as chief of Ofsted, the government's inspectorate of schools.

Now Blunkett has renewed Woodhead's post and made him joint vice-chairperson of the education task force being set up to "evangelise" methods of school improvement.

The other joint vice chairperson is Professor Tim Brighouse, chief education officer of Birmingham. He is a strong critic of Mr Woodhead's record as leader of Ofsted.

NAHT general secretary David Hart said: "The motion demonstrates the depth of hostility in the profession for Chris Woodhead. if he makes statements as chief inspector which contradict the views of the majority of the Task Force the government has no altemative but to get rid of him."

Chris McDonnell from Staffordshire, who moved the emergency motion said: "Our head teachers, staff and governors have lost confidence in Mr Woodhead's views on education."

Many see a stormy future ahead for the special task forces led by two men with such firmly opposing views on education.

Mr Woodhead responded to the news thathe would be sharing the vice chairpersonship with Professor Brighouse by promising to launch a full-scale inquiry into the professor's work in Birmingham.

But David Blunkett has warned that he will not put up with any attempt by Chris Woodhead to exert an excessive policy by threatening to resign or appealing directly to public opinion.

Last Monday the government announced the setting up of 29 summer school schemes to help 11-year-olds who have reading problems to catch up before beginning their secondary education next September.

The proposal for this came from Professor Brighouse.

The 300,000-scheme will be financed by cutting the campaign launched by the Tory government to persuade schools to opt out of local authority control.

The scheme will be voluntary and it will not be easy to motivate those most in need to give up 50 hours of their summer holiday for more school if their experience of school so far has been negative and discouraging.

It will in no way be a substitute for a long-term policy of restering educational standards by improving staffing levels, cutting class sizes, giving schools more resources and repairing and renovating the buildings.
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France cheers Left victory

by Steve Lawton

THE leftward shift in the mood of France was overwhelmingly confirmed last Monday, as the Socialists (PS) secured a government pledging a new deal on jobs, welfare and a renegotiation of the country's entry into the European Single Currency.

The 577-seat National Assembly,, in which President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Alain Juppe had an unassailable 564 seat (over 80 per cent) majority, has been virtually cut in half by the victory of the Socialists, its allies and the Communists.

Jospin's victory falls just short of an absolute majority of 289 seats even if the Greens are included. So the Communist Party's 39 seats -- the single largest left party after the Socialists - means they become a key element in any decision-making by Jospin and his allies.

On Monday Communist Party (PCF) leader Robert Hue said they would participate in the new government, subject to its national council's recomendations and agreement at grass-roots level.

"A new policy of the left has to be translated into action quickly or disappointment will be terrible," he said.

During his campaign over a week ago Jospin said: "The Anglo-Saxon model had a major social cost and led to a major increase in inequalities and led to the conservatives' most crushing defeat since the beginning of the 19th century."

But how that defeat is capitalised upon to benefit the millions who voted for change is the issue. And among the Socialists' key pledges, they have said they will:

Tackle unemployment by creating 700,000 jobs divided 50-50 between private and public sectors;

Cut the working week from 39 to 35 hours and constrain wholesale layoffs and hire-and-fire;

Demand Renault, which is 46 per cent state-owned, reverse their decision to close its Vilvoorde, Belgium plant with the expected loss of 3,000 jobs;

Reverse the previous government's programme of privatisation. That includes France Telecom, which would have been first on the list of a re-elected RPR-UDF government. The Socialists were also considering a halt to the privatisation of France's leading defence, electronics and aerospace firms Thomson-CSF and Aerospatiele.

And on Europe, Jospin said there were four conditions for support of European Monetary Union (EMU): Italy should be admitted; constraints placed on the European central bank; there should be a cross-Euro government strategy for economic growth and the euro currency's value should be softened.

The Communists, who had already hammered out a common electoral strategy with the Socialists, are seeking further commitments. Leader of the PCF Robert Hue said: "We want significant concrete measures to be taken."

Opposed to the Single Currency, the PCF have asked for "guarantees" from Jospin on: increasing the national minimum wage of 6, 407 Francs by 500 Francs a month; reducing the 20.6 per cent VAT and getting the job creation plan underway. And Robert Hue said reducing working hours must start "at the very beginning of the legislature."

Financial markets are "adjusting" to Jospin's likely moves over privatisation by, as they put it, shifting investors' asset "exposure" to safe sectors of the economy. This is particularly reflected in the banking and industrial sectors.

Some analysts suggest that Jospin may have achieved a political victory, but that does not mean it will be reflected in economic strategy. Jospin is already being challenged by France's largest car manufacturer Peugeot-Citroen who have just announced 2,800 redundancies.

While Jospin, not unlike Tony Blair, speaks of not being able to achieve much overnight, the pressure will grow for initial pledges to be met. With the straightjacket of prospective EU membership, government manouevring will be limited in the longer term.

The Communists' role in the reformist government, with the disaster of the Mitterand years not long passed, is a delicate one. And the experience in Italy is all too plain. The right would now consider a social democratic government that quelled militancy, while apparantly making certain concessions, the way to achieve what Chirac and Juppe wanted to continue themselves.

But the expectations of millions, borne of long months of protests and strikes, will not easily be broken. The immediate period ahead will see how the die is cast.


Outgoing parliament:

Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR)-centre right Union for French Democracy (UDF) coalition and allies 464; Socialist Party (PS) 61; Communist Party (PCF) 24; various left forces 14; various right forces 13.

Incoming parliament:

Socialist Party (246) and allies 271; Communist Party 39; Ecologists (Greens) 8; National Front 1; Independent 1; RPR (138)-UDF (110) combined with various right-wing forces (9): 257.

The elections include 22 French colonial seats, of which four were won by the PCE Three of the five Reunion seats (an island near Mauritius) are under PCF control.

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British News

Trident reaches Downing Street

A TRIDENT missile arrived in Downing Street on Wednesday 28 May after an 11-day journey from the nuclear submarine base at Faslane in Scotland.

The weapon was only a fullscale model, at the culmination of its "Traffickin' Trident Tour", organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

And it came with a message that the new Labour government could have an extra 1.5 billion to spend on preventing the closure of much-needed schools and hospitals if only it cancelled the useless and dangerous weapon.

London Region CND had organised a big turn out to mark the arrival of the missile at Number Ten, where a letter was handed in - but the missile itself was obliged to remain outside Downing Street.

Jeremy Corbyn MP was among the supporters picketing Downing Street to get rid of Trident.

CND has produced a petition and a postcard campaign against Trident to be used throughout the summer, at endless fairs and festivals. The petition will be handed in to Downing Street shortly after the Queen's speech and the opening of Parliament in October.

There is also a new Trident leaflet and full-colour poster. Badges and stickers for the new campaign will be available soon.

Further details are available from CND Group sales, 162 Holloway Road, London N7 8DQ.

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