Editorial - The mask slips. Says who?
Lead Story - Health service shortages put patients at risk
Feature - Infant schools rely more on untrained helpers
International - Czech teachers' strike
British News - Break the peace impasse


Editorial

The mask slips. Says who?

THE revelation last week that "simulant" bacteria were deliberately and secretly released in public places in Britain during the 1960s and 70s,to test their "viability", is very shocking.

Though the specific instances admitted by Defence Secretary Michael Portillo may have been news, the fact that such things can and do happen came as no great surprise. After all it has been known for years that a number of similar "experiments" on unsuspecting citizens were carried out in the United States.

And we have all been aware for decades that Britain carried out research and development into germ and chemical weapons at its top secret Potton Down laboratories.

Labour MP Ken Livingstone is right to call for a full independent inquiry into the germ-testing incidents. We should demand to know why these tests were carried out, who sanctioned them, how the results were measured,how they were funded and on what evidence it is claimed that no one suffered ill effects.

While such disclosures are "hot news", the mask that usually conceals the reality of capitalist state power, slips away for a moment. Britain's bourgeois parliamentary democracy is revealed for what it is -- an instrument and creation of the capitalist class rather than the pinnacle of political power it is made out to be.

For if British citizens can be treated as human guinea pigs, without their knowledge, without discussion in Parliament and without accountability to elected representatives, then Westminster's power must have limitations and a greater power must exist elsewhere.

This is no conspiracy theory but a description of the dictatorship of the capitalist class -- the true nature of our society. State power will go on being in the hands of the capitalist class, regardless of elections, until a fundamental social revolution wrests that power away.

It's true that all countries have military secrets. We can all understand this. For instance, who would argue that parliament should have debated when and where the wartime Normandy landings were to take place.

But under cover of this common sense understanding, terrible things are dreamed up and planned and the secrecy is no longer about national security but about side-stepping the common decency and humanity of the majority of people.

Them can be no doubt that if the people who struggle to work on public transport each day had been consulted there would have been no germ-tests on Waterloo Bridge, in the Underground or anywhere else. Indeed such apocalyptic programmes as germ warfare would be consigned to the rubbish bin.

Says who?

JOHN MAJOR's attack on the social chapter of the Maastricht Treaty aimed to kill two birds with one stone -- smoothing his own party by raising an issue they agree about and trying to scare voters away from Labour by claiming the social chapter would cost half a million jobs.

This is just a recylcled version of that old nonsense about workers pricing themselves out of a job.

Unemployment is created by capitalism not by workers. And accepting low pay and rotten conditions does not bring more jobs or save existing jobs.

We only need look at the poverty pay and lousy conditions that exist in many developing countries -- these have not brought full employment, indeed there are millions out of work in those countries.

The workers in the former socialist countries of Europe used to have full employment. Now they ate experiencing high levels of unemployment. The causeof their new problem of joblessness can't be high wages and living standards since they have neither.

And isn't it strange how these arguments never seem to be used when it comes to the huge increases in directors' pay. Then we are told that high salaries are essential to attract the best people and to keep them on the board.

We should not be fooled by the Tories who, as usual, are speaking for the bosses and the shareholders.

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Lead Story

Health service shortages put patients at risk

A SURVEY of 1,000 nurses carried out by ICM Research on behalf of the journal Nursing Times, showed widespread concern over staff shortages in the NHS.

Four out of five of those questioned said there were shortages of staff at the hospital or community setvice when: they worked, and of these two thirds said the situation was putting patients at risk.

Over half the nurses thought patient care and NHS management had got worse since the government introduced its changes into the health service five years ago.

The government has now promised a £32 million package to try and boost recruitment into nursing and keep those nurses the service already has.

But the money will not reach Scotland because the government's Scottish Office maintains there is not a shortage there.

This has angered many health workers in Scotland. Jim Devine senior regional officer with health union Unison said the shortage of nurses in Scotland was acute and that "typically there are three nurses doing the work that four did five years ago".

June Andrews, Scottish secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: "Throwing money at a recruitment drive will trot solve the problem elsewhere; it didn't last time.

"The Department of Health would be better spending the money on nurses' wages. That might stop so many leaving the health service and causing a shortage."

Joe Gallagher, an RCN steward in Glasgow said: "Because of underfunding, trusts have to do things like appointing people on a part-time contract and then getting them in to work extra hours. This way they avoid holiday pay and sick pay at the full-time contract rates."

The problem of staff shortages was further underlined last week by a report that some patients are left to go hungry when they are in hospital not because there is no food but because there are not enough staff to help feed patients or to ask why food has not been eaten.

One patient had her meal left on her tray even though she had both arms broken and therefore couldn't manage to feed herself. Another case was reported where an elderly patient couldn't even find her food tray because she was blind.

Nurses are very concerned about this but as one north London nurse said last week: "You see the meals sitting at the end of their bed and you know you haven't time tosit and help them eat."

The Association of Cornmunity Health Councils report said that patients, especially the elderly, may develop malnutrition because they are not getting enough to eat or drink.

The Association received ever 200 letters about problems with food provision.

Hospitals are overstretched all over the country. One consultant at the Royal Liverpool university hospital said staff were working in "battlefield conditions" in the accident and emergency department.

Lawrence Jaffey, the A&E department's clinical director said the emergency service workload has risen by 50 per cent while funding has stood still in real terms. "There's no doubt" he said, "that patient care has been severely compromised because we're having to spread our resources too thinly".

One measure being taken by a number of health authorities to save money is to cut back the number of NHS abortions in their area. The cuts are being carried out by introducing new restrictions such as upper age limits.

Doctors fearthe cuts could trigger a revival of dangerous backstreet abortions which put women's lives in danger.

There has been serious concern for a long time about the lack of care for mentally ill patients.

The government has reacted by saying it will set up mental health authorities to co-ordinate and oversee the services in each area.

But this will not solve the problem of underfunding both of local authorities and health authorities. It is estimated that psychiatric hospitals in London are now overcrowded by 25 per cent.

And a report by the National Association of Health Authorities said that some psychiatric hospitals have a bed occupancy of up to 140 per cent!

Who said the NHS was safe in their hands? The Tories have got to go. We demand a National Health Service that is universally available, properly funded, properly staffed and under democratic control.

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Feature

Infant schools rely more on untrained helpers

by Caroline Colebrook

YOUNG children just starting in infant schools are more likely to be taught by untrained assistants, who spend much more time with them than their teachers, according to a study, Jills of all trades published last week by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

The study was carried out by Leicester University's school of education and it found that schools are employing record numbers of classroom assistants, for a little as £4 an hour.

The classroom assistants were originally brought in to help teachers with domestic duties. But now they are being used to teach children in large classes of up to 30.

Teachers are trained to encourage children to think independently but the survey found that the untrained assistants put more emphasis on the completion of tasks, rather than whether the children fully understood what they were doing.

It showed that the number of educational support staff in primary schools rose from 13,641 in 1991 to 21,914 in 1994 -- a rise of 63 per cent -- while the numbers of primary school teachers fell.

The increase in the number of assistants dates from a policy launched by former Education Secretary John Patten to recruit a "mums' army" of assistants who would, in theory, later use their experience in the classroom as training to become fully qualified teachers.

Protests from teaching unions forced him to drop the plan and put forward a specialist teacher assistants training programme. But most assistants do not have this qualification.

ATL general secretary Peter Smith said: "A fully professional scheme of classroom assistant development could enhance children's education.

"But teachers should be careful that a school does not see it as a stopgap measure to cope with the twin problems of large classes and no cash."

But it seems this is exactly what is happening.

The study said: "Some schools preferred to gain as many adult hours as possible for the money they had available and to employ classroom assistants rather than a teacher, since this was less costly for the same number of hours."

The classroom assistants have had to fit in with the techniques of the different teachers with little time allowed for discussion and consultation between the two groups, who are both under pressure from work and family commitments.

The study also criticised the claim by the Office of Standards in Education (Ofsted) which claimed that classroom assistants were the answer to rising class sizes, saying this "appears to have no justification in practice".

And the practice of promoting "good" volunteer parents to paid assistant posts was also questioned.

Peter Smith said the An. was not opposed to the recruiting of assistants. But teachers should be fully consulted and given time to supervise them.

And teachers should boycott the scheme if it increased their workload unreasonably or diverted resources from the school's key purposes.

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International

Czech teachers' strike

from Postmark Praha

ROLLING one-day strikes by teachers and other school workers are underway in the Czech Republic. The action is in support of an 18.9 per cent pay claim.

The strikers' union, CMOSPS, is the second largest in the country and has 240,000 members. It includes teachers in state nursery basic and secondary schools and canteen and after-school care centre staff.

Teachers at two provincial universities and at schools run by the army are also expected to join the strike.

The basic pay of teachers in the first nine months of last year averaged only 5,668 crowns per month ($268), making them one of the lowest paid groups in the Czech Republic.

What has angered them in particular is the govemment's action in increasing the weight of highly divisive "merit" payments, awarded at the discretion of head teachers, which means that certain favoured teachers can earn as much as double the basic rate.

Such payments are justified by right-wing schools minister Ivan Pilip as necessary to reward "good" teachers. But they are made on an annual basis and can therefore be withdrawn at the whim of head teachers, most of whom owe their jobs to the anti-communist purge carried out in the aftermath of the so-called "velvet revolution".

The amount available each year depends on the government's annual budget Last year this went into the red, for the first time since the ousting of the Communist-led National Front governmentin 1989, reflecting growing problems in the economy.

What teachers are striking for therefore is a living wage.

Support

The strike will affect 60 of the Czech Republic's 86 local authorities -- those where a majority of staff at individual workplaces have declared their support for strike action.

Two hundred and forty schools in Brno, the Czech Republic's second city, and three other districts in the militant South Moravia region will be silent on the first day of the action, with four other districts following suit two days later.

Teachers in the other 52 districts will have taken similar action throughout last month. If the teachers' pay claim isnot met, the union will consider taking what it calls "more radical steps".

Support for the teachers has come from the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM).

Zdenek Klanica, vice chair of the party, an MP and himself a university teacher, told journalists on 16 January that previously almost everyone had enjoyed reasonable access to education, regardless of social status and age.

This was no longer true. The present government was continuing with its reckless policy of "money first" and scrimping on education spending and teachers pay.

The Communists, he said, made no secret of their support for the demands of the teachers and other school staff. The government and the schools ministry, specifically minister Pilip, were to blame for the present state of education.

Remarks

In a reference to remarks recently made by Pilip, doubting the value of academic titles gained under socialism, Zdenek Klanica said his deeply engrained anti-communism could not hide the fact that he had been unable to solve the problems besetting the schools.

The day was not far off when parents of children at basic school would have to meet the full cost of teaching aids and textbooks.

Already in the universities the cost of accommodation and food was constantly rising, as was the price of textbooks and operating costs. The best staff were leaving for jobs with foreign companies and research institutes.

In Parliament during the debate on this year's budget the Communist group showed its support for the teachers by proposing that 2,000 million crowns be set aside to finance improvements in their pay. But this had been rejected.

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British News

Break the peace impasse

by Steve Lawton

THE BLOODY Sunday revelations and growing calls for an inquiry, Sinn Fein's relentless pressure to break the peace impasse and the crude "murder" allegations levelled against Gerry Adams are focusing sharply on Ireland as general elections loom.

On Monday Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams once again affirmed their commitment to rebuilding the talks. He has written to Prime Minister John Major and Irish Premier John Bruton in an attempt to make headway before the general election.

After eight months of deliberation, the talks are still bogged down in the opening plenary. As far as Gerry Adams was concerned nothing should prevent a serious move forward."It is still not too late," he said, "to rebuild a credible peace process and progress is still possible before the British general election gets into full swing."

Geny Adams, in his letters, requested that John Major's officials "meet with Sinn Fein" and "work through the areas of difference between the proposals put to him by Mr Adams and John Hume last October, and his own government's position".

He continued:"Even though John Major appears to have ruled out any forward movement until after the Westminster election, I believe that an opportunity to break out of the current impasse still exists.

"It is not incredible in this dangerous and deteriorating situation that anyone should sit back and do nothing. But that is exactly what Mr Major, who has primary responsibility, has decided to do. This issue cannot be put off until after the election."

Refering to calls for an international inquiry into Bloody Sunday, Gerry Adams said it would be "immensely helpful" if the government agreed to such an investigation.

He said: "A healing process is a very necessary part of confidence-building." In his view a special sub-committee of the British cabinet had given advanced clearance to the Bloody Sunday shootings.

And the allegations presented in the Observer and Sunday Times that Gerry Adams once considered "murdering" leader of the SDLP John Hume is, according to historian Tim Pat Coogan last Sunday, "an all out effort to disguise British culpability in the breakdown of peace talks, to discredit Sinn Fein in the media."

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