TONY BLAIR'S recent remarks in the journal Unions Today, urging unions to concentrate on encouraging "individual empowerment in skills and the enhancement of individual opportunity", would have come as no surprise to New Worker readers.
Of course trade unions look after the interests of individual members. To tell them to do this is simply crass. His comments though were not just to tell the unions to suck eggs but implied thev should focus on helping workers to become more skilful and flexible employees rather than seeing their main task as taking on the bosses over pay and conditions and defending the collective interests of their members.
His homily was in line with his remarks last year when he asserted that the class struggle is a thing of the past. His repetition of that old lie, peddled by the capitalist class and its mouthpieces for decades, only revealed that in reality Blair is far from the bright "new" thing he pretends to be but is just another dreary right wing purveyor of "old" thinking and class collaborationist claptrap.
What is strange is that at this time, when the mood of the working class is not in general very militant and when there are relatively few industrial actions taking place, he should be at such pains to attack militancy and collective struggle.
Who is he addressing? What does he hope to achieve?
Of course there is always the usual desire of Labour leaders to reassure the ruling class of their undying loyalty. But that sort of thing is normally left to Guildhall dinners and the CBI conference.
It is far more likely that these latest remarks are targeted at the left of his own party, committed and active trade unionists and the left throughout the whole movement. Its purpose could be to enrage rather than convince. It could be designed to further disaffect those he regards as out of step.
Blair knows full well that the current economic upturn will eventually come to an end bringing high unemployment and poverty in its train. He knows too that the mood of the working class will change and militancy will rise. Then he and the right wing of the movement will learn that the class struggle is very much alive and will be under pressure to either change their tune or go.
That is why Blair wants to weaken the left and the organised class conscious working class while he still can. And the best way to weaken the movement is, through raising frustration and anger, to encourage the left to walk away now, leaving the assets that generations of workers struggled to amass in the hands of the gatecrashers and careerists.
The right is being assisted, albeit unwittingly, by some on the left who spread the idea that the Blairites have now got everything in the Labour Party so sewn up that they are invincible. They point to utterances like this latest Blair comment in the union journal as further evidence of the hopelessness of the Labour Party itself.
And yet the Labour right has not yet had to face a real test. The very defeatism which these prophets of despair preach delays the onset of the struggle to smash Blairism and democratise the Labour Party.
Though it is not yet openly said, there are clearly some who have an agenda -- one which objectively serves the interests of the ruling class -- to create some new left social democratic organisation or party that would become a haven for disaffected romantics. It would, they imagine be a pure place where no one had to rub shoulders with horrible right wing class traitors at all.
They also dream that the working class will then turn to them in their droves and vote them in to office. And all this despite the evidence of every election since the war in which no communist, Trotskyist, left social democratic or independent left party or group standing in elections has raised so much as an amused eyebrow in the corridors of power!
The fact is that a rising tide of working class militancy -- that would be necessary to fulfil such dreams -- would first and foremost show its teeth in the labour movement, a movement that already exists and which working class people look to for reform. Such a mood would change the balance of forces in the Labour Party and the pro-Blair unions and give the working class a real chance of achieving reforms in its interest.
While we know full well that the Labour Party and movement are not instruments of fundamental change and cannot bring socialism, our movement must not be lost. The last thing we should do is give it away before the bell has sounded and the fight begun!
Back to index
PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin's New Year message to the Russian people amounted to a handover of power to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, chief architect of the deepening war against Chechen separatists, pending Presidential elections within the next three months.
Following a very comfortable and secure bowing out for Yeltsin, smoothly arranged with the new interim leader, Putin has moved quickly to install his appointees since he made it clear on Russian television on New Year's eve that there will be no power vacuum. Any "overstepping" of the federal constitution would be "resolutely cut short", he said.
He has also officially begun severing links with the more controversial elements of the Yeltsin family and court. Yeltsin, immune from prosecution, retires comfortably off. Putin thereby creates the appearance of distancing the "new" regime from corruption by neutralising the festering embarrassment caused by investigations into "The Family", as the Yeltsins have been called.
According to the Russian constitution, Presidential elections must now be held by the end of Match following Yeltsin's resignation. Whether an earlier date than late March is set or not to capitalise on Putin's war popularity, as has been suggested, depends in part on how decisively federal forces secure Chechenia.
Putin has made it clear that no date is set for taking the Chechen capital, Grozny. The various deadlines for wiping outall rebel resistance -- ranging from just several weeks at the beginning of the conflict to it all being over by the end of this February more recently -- show that predictions are hazardous in these circumstances.
While the Russian military is continuing to entrench positions ever closer to the heart of Grozny, following three weeks of relentless ground and air bombardment any permanent success will depend on whether rebels' supply lines and external means of support can be cut off for the future. As yet, there is no sign of that.
The timing of the military decision to fully occupy Grozny itself, which is now creeping forward, is partly conditioned by the political stakes in the forthcoming elections. For many, his confirmation is a forgone conelusion, even though each day is a political minefield.
Moreover, behind the war is concern at the encroachment of Western interests in the Caucasus and Caspian oil region. The United States in particular is securing big oil pipeline deals with neighbouring former republics while Russia is increasingly sidelined and slowly shut out of major markets.
This fundamental carve-up is set to loom ever larger. Talk of encirclement, while balanced with rhetoric of building responsible capitalism and re-fashioning Russian-Western relations, is uppermost in Russian leaders' minds.
The nature of Putin's national appeal, backed by the hastily formed Unity election bloc last year, is clear: He wants to reinforce "traditional Russian values", "social solidarity" and Russian living standards should be bettered.
He rejects short-termism for "gradual balanced steps" in the reform process. And he has made various pledges to rebuild the industrial and military infrastructure with a "tough, effective and resolute" will.
Sustaining Russia's unity and territorial integrity, while beginning the process of protecting the state from encroachment in the immediate regions, is the principle that increasingly undervrites Russia's domestic circumstances.
If the Western incursion becomes dominant, a Russian national unity of a different kind may emerge from the dire crisis of continual conflict with imperialist-backed forces.
The multi-national unity of the Soviet state once made that conflict unthinkable, and the threatening realities may begin to turn Russian and other peoples ofthe former Soviet Union towards recreating that shield.
Dishonest elections, but struggle continues
Statement of "Communist and Workers' Russia" (Election Bloc 7),18 December, 1999. [Elections to Duma lower house began on 10 December.]
THE Council of the Election Bloc "Communists and Workers' Russia is for the resurrection of the Soviet Union", declares that inspite of the assurances made by President Yeltsin and the Chairman of the Central Election Committee A Vishniakov, we have witnessed no honest election.
Direct and indirect pressurising of the voters supported by huge expenses and monopolisation of the media by the right-wing have surpassed all expectations.
According to the estimates of the analysts, during the last three weeks the pro-Yeltsin right-wing election blocs (The Bear, Union of the Right Forces, The Apple, Fatherland-All Russia and Zhirinovsky Bloc) took more TV time than the rest of the blocs with the ratio of 18.4 to 1. But taking into consideration pcilitical advertising, then the ratio is 30 to 1.
To dilute the opposition vote the regime concocted a series of election blocs representing a number of ambitious Ieaders, but no real parties or movements.
A number of legal problems during the pre-election campaign were quickly resolved in favour of the regime, eliminating some blocs and allowing others to contest.
Pseudo-debates on pseudo-social issues on the TV between the right-wing blocs in were designed to deflect the people's attention from the real problems they race and to marginalise the left-wing forces.
It is for the purpose of boosting the personal rating of the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and, by implication, the pro-governmment parties that the war in Chechenia was used. Any successful outcome of its hostilities are tied to the election date.
In this way, the suggestion made by Yeltsin on 7 August, 1999 ("To win the election a good job has to be done") has been implemented. The Bloc 7 emphasised long before that the 1999 polls would be dishonest.
The practice shows that opposing the brainwashing machine is only possible by means of organised resistance ofthe masses outside of the parliament.
The Bloc 7 and its member Communist and Workers' parties will continue organising the workers' resistance irrespective of the election results' just as they did in the cases of trade union "Defence", the Vyborg Paper Plant, Leningrad Metal Works, the Vorkuta mine, "Vogashorskaya" and so on.
The progressives in the parliament will speed up this process, and this will be the task of the representatives of our Bloc, the workers' group in the state Duma, as well as of other representative bodies of power.
The Leaders of the "Communists and Workers' Russia" is for the resurrection of the Soviet Union" Block:
V Tiulkin, First Secretary uf the CC of the Russian Communist Workers' Party;
A Kryuchkov, Chairman of the PC of the Communist Party of Russia;
V Grigoriev, Co-Chairman of the "Communists and the Workers' Russia for the resurrection of the Soviet Union" Movement.
Back to index
by Caroline Colebrook
STUDENT leaders throughout Britain are gearing up their struggle against tuition fees and for the restoration of grants after the Scottish Parliament was forced to concede these.
The Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition in the Scottish Parliament was in danger of falling apart over the Lib-Dems original election commitment to abolish student fees.
Last week both Labour and Lib-Dem members of the Scottish Executive indicated they were prepared to accept the findings of Edinburgh lawyer Andrew Cubie's independent report into student finance and so save the coalition.
The Cubic report proposes that tuition fees should be replaced by a Scottish graduate endowment scheme, under which the Scottish Executive would pay student fees and the students would not have to pay them back until they were earning at least £25,000 a year.
Bursaries, or grants, would be available to students from low income backgrounds of just over £2,000. Mature students and single parents would get a higher bursary.
The members of the Scottish Executive are still trying to hammer out the fine detail of their deal.
But it will blow a big hole in new Labour's Westminster policies on student fees if students from Scotland are getting a better financial deal than those sitting next to them in the lecture rooms from England and Wales.
Some 47 per cent of all young people and 50 per cent of young women in Scotland go on to higher education -- a higher proportion than in the rest of Britain.
And Scottish universities still cling to a tradition of four-year degree courses.
Under the current system, announced just after Labour's May 97 general election victory, students pay up to £1,000 a year tuition fees on a means-tested basis. This is to rise shortly to £1025.
They can borrow the money from the Student Loans Company to cover fees and living costs of up to £3,635 a year. Just over a year ago Labour, completed the phasing out of student grants that had begun under the Tories.
Many students try to avoid taking out their full loan entitlement by trying to support themselves through part-time work or by continuing to live at home with their parents to reduce living costs.
They fear starting their new careers with massive debts around their necks.
But the part-time work leaves them tired and unable to achieve their full academic potential. And having to continue living with parents restricts the number and type of courses they can apply for.
Once they leave college they have to start repaying their students loans as soon as their income reaches £10,000 a year.
Cubie has described the current system for funding students as "ineffective, insufficient and indecipherable".
He warned that many students are taking on high levels of paid work that is detrimental to their studies.
"We consider the Government unwisely put aside Dearing's recommendations for a graduate contribution and chose an approach that has become unpopular in Scotland," he said.
"We are clear that the present arrangements are broadly discredited, add to anxieties about debt and create undue anomalies."
Cubie does not go as far as advocating a return to free education. He says: "Indeed, fairness suggests that those who gain from higher education should make an appropriate and timely contribution in respect of the benefits gained."
It is on these grounds that he proposed the Scottish Graduate Endowment. Though if the graduates benefited mostly through better paid jobs, a proper income tax system would be just as effective in ensuring they repaid the public purse according to their ability.
Mr Cubie also berated Education Secretary David Blunkett for insisting that student fees continue to apply to four-year degree courses.
This means that English students are now deterred from applying for courses at Scottish universities because ofthe extra debts that will be incurred.
Cubic also recommended that students genuinely unable to find work during the long summer vacation should have the right to claim benefits restored.
And he proposes that students should be barred from more than 10 hours paid work a week during term time.
If the Scottish Executive follows Cubie's recommendations, it could make the whole students fees system unworkable thtoughout Britain, especially with the students themselves organising and campaigning to break the system.
Back to index
ELIAN GONZALEZ, the six year old boy who was unwillingly taken from Cuba to Miami in a disastrous illegal immigrant run to America, may soon be allowed the return home.
US immigration officials decided on Wednesday that his father does have the right to custody and ruled against the claims of his distant relatives in Florida and the Cuban exile gangs who tried to make the boy an anti-communist icon.
Elian was smuggled aboard a rickety craft by his mother and step-father which went down off the Florida coast in bad weather. His mother and step-father drowned. The boy was rescued by the US coastguard and taken to the home of distant relatives who claimed his dead mother's wish was for him to be brought up in America.
The Cuban emigre community latched on claiming his father, who had custody of the child in Cuba, was not fit to bring the boy up under socialism.
Now the US immigration service (INS) has ruled that Elian should be re-united with his father who can now come to Miami to take him back. The Clinton administration has asked the Cuban government to issue the father with an exit visa to come and collect his son.
If his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, declines -- and he has already received death-threats from Cuban exiles -- the INS says it will arrange for the boy to be escorted to Cuba by 14 January.
The INS decision undoubtedly reflects the wish of the Clinton administration which has tried to downplay what looked set to become an international tug-of-war with the Cuban government over the custody issue.
Though the United States routinely allows all adult Cuban defectors to stay in America even a US court would find it difficult to justify a ruling which denied the father's rights -- given that the boy was in the custody of his father and was taken away without his permission.
The Cuban exiles have egged on Elian's great uncles and cousins to appeal against the decision and go to court. But the INS decision is based on the assumption that the courts will favour Elian's natural father, who can prove that he can provide the loving, family environment the boy needs -- unlike those of his relatives in Miami.
Back to index
CONNEX South Central, which runs commuter trains in and out of Victoria Station in London last Tuesday cancelled nearly 400 trains because of a shortage of drivers.
This results from an overtime ban by the train drivers' union Aslef, part of a long-term dispute over working hours.
Last year the union and Connex agreed a cut in the working week from 37 to 35 hours but that, for the time being, extra overtime and rest-day shifts could be worked.
This should have allowed the company to recruit more drivers but it did not.
By last November the deal was scheduled for renegotiation but Connex refused. So Aslef refused to implement its part of the deal and stopped all overtime working.
Instead of negotiating with Aslef, Connex sought a court injunction to stop the overtime ban over Christmas and the New Year. Connex lawyers told the court the alternative would be no trains over that vital period.
Drivers were scheduled, against their will, to work extra overtime and rest days over the holiday period.
The court granted an injunction against the overtime ban but that injunction expired early this week and on Tuesday, the first full day back at work after the holiday period, Connex services were in chaos.
This shows the company cannot run a proper service without expecting drivers to work unacceptably long hours, leading to increased tiredness stress and a threat to safety for passengers.
As we go to press the overtime ban is continuing and commuters are still facing chaos.
Aslef general secretary Mick Rix pointed out that overtime and rest day working are voluntary and if Connex cannot cope without overtiring its drivers, it is not fit to run a railway.
* An investigation has hen launched after a Glasgow-Edinburgh express passenger train passed a signal at red while entering Waverly station earlier this week.
The Scotrail train then broke a set of points, forcing the closure of two platforms.
Back to index