The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 8th October, 1999

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Editorial - Treated like cattle. & Safety before profit.
Lead Story - Train drivers demand better safety.
Feature - London councils call for £1 billion housing programme.
International - Russian forces to create "secure zone" in Chechnia.
British News - Ford workers walk out over racist bosses.


Treated like cattle

LAST week's tragic rail diaster at Ladbroke Grove, west London, has roused feelings of public greif and great sadness. It has also produced a great deal of anger that such a catastrophe could occur while the inquiry into the last major rail accident is still dragging on.

 Mouthpieces for the railway industry have been quick to deflect questions about rail privatisation and have pointed to major accidents that occurred in the 50s and 60s when the railways were nationalised.

 This won't wash. People rightly expect that the enormous technological advances that have occured since the terrible Lewisham crash in 1957 should have made rail travel many times safer -- we do not expect our railways to be finding excuses in the accidents of thirty or forty years ago.

 The fact is that technological progress has made new equipment available -- such as the Automatic Train protection (ATP) system which stops trains if they pass a red light. The trouble is the privatised companies of both track and trains are unwilling to cough up the money to install it.

 Of course we don't know yet how last week's accident happened. But we do know that a privatised service is no different from any other business -- It has to make profits in line with other investments and these profits have to come from squeezing jobs, raising fares, reducing the service to Passengers and holding back on expensive innovations like ATP.

 The public is fed up of being treated like cattle -- sometimes transported in even worse conditions than cattle -- and the obvious failure to deliver on safety is the last straw.

 The railways should be re-nationalised by simply withholding the franchises when they come up for review. There should be no compensation as the fat cat owners have already made fortunes out of us.

 The promised public inquiry into this latest tragedy should be started as soon as possible.

Safety before profit

TWO weeks ago the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) issued an enforcement order against British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) because 700 gallons of radioactively contaminated water had leaked into a stream near the Chapelcross nuclear power plant in Scotland. It was the third incident at the plant in less than a year.

 By the end of that week the world was shocked by news of an extremely serious nuclear accident in Japan in which an explosion tipped a hole in the roof of a nuclear plant expoang workers, rescuers, local people and the environ ment to radioactive material. At least 49 peopleare known to have been exposed to high levels of radiation and some of those casualties are critically ill.

 Sadly there may be many more victims of that disaster who could yet develop the symptoms of radiation-induced illnesses in the coming weeks, months and years. This was undoubtedly the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

 But while disasters like Chemobyl and Japan may be rare, radioactive leaks and smaller scale accidents are all too common.

 Only last Friday British nuclear inspectors were investigating a leak of radioactive waste into the Bristol Channel from the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in Somerset.

 Then last Monday (4 October), 22 workers were exposed to low-level radiation when radioactive water leaked from a nuclear power plant at North Kyongsang Province in south Korea.

 Accidents in the nuclear industry are fundamentally different and of a far more serious nature than those in other industries. This is because radioactive contamination is not only extremely dangerous to all forms of life but it cannot be just washed or swept away -- some types remain dangerous for so many years that it becomes a fearsome legacy for future generations.

 Nuclear power must not be handed over to the private sector, where private profit making is the driving force and primary concern. Safety would no doubt be overseen by government regulation -- but that is only as good as the inspection service is allowed to be. Governments are not renowned for their high spending on enforcement.

 We say, No to the privatisation of BNFL, decommission and close down Thorpe, Douneray, Sellafield and all the ageing nuclear plants. Stop the development of new plants. We do not need nuclear power -- only the British ruling class wants these dangerous piles in order to provide the raw materials for nuclear weapons.

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Lead Story

Train drivers demand better safety

By Daphne Liddle

THE TRAIN drivers' union Aslef last Wednesday demanded improvements in safety standards within seven days or they will ballot for strike action.

 Aslef general secretary Mike Rix made the announcement at a press conference as the full death toll in the catastrophe is still not known.

 As we go to press the figure is officially 70 but there are still an unknown number of bodies in the burned out front carriage of the Great Western Express from Cheltenham.

 This train collided with the commuter train from Paddington to Great Bedwyn at 8.11am on Tuesday morning.

 A full investigation of the crash will take a long time but already it has emerged dlat the Great Western Train had a green signal Light to proceed while the smaller train should have halted ata red Light to allow the express to pass before crossing the tracks to its appropriate line.

 Now train drivers are reporting a history of problems with a particular signal at that poinf signal 109, which is said to be difficult to see.

 There was another near collision at exactly the same point last yea'r and there have been several incidents of trains going past that signal when it has been at red over the past three years.

 Drivers say they have complained to Railtrack about this signal a number of times and also to the rail safety watchdog.

 They also report another signal in the same area which has been the subject of more complaints for its lack of visibility.

 Aslef spokesperson John Richards last Tuesday told the New Worker that the union welcomed the immediate promise from deputy Prime Minister John Prescott for a full public inquiry.

 "It should be speedy and consider all the evidence and record recommendations which will prevent such accidents happening again.

 "We should not have to wait two-and-a-halfyears as with the Southall crash."

 He also re-iterated the union's long-standing demand for the fitting of the Automatic Train Protection system to all trains.

 If the Paddington crash was caused by one of the trains going through a red light, the ATP system would have prevented the crash. It applies brakes automatically if the train goes through a red light.

 The inquiry after the Clapham rail crash over a decade ago recommended this system be fitted to all British Rail trains.

 The Tory government at the time agreed then reneged. The system is expensive and they were in the process of preparing the rail network for privatisation.

 Installing the system would have imposed a cost burden that would have deterred potential capitalist buyers.

 Recently John Prescott ordered that all trains should be fitted with a different cheaper, protection system.

 The danger now is that the investigation and any recommendations coming from it will be delayed by the fact that the rail network is now divided up between different private companies.

 The two trains were owned by separate companies and Railtrack, responsible for the tracks and signalling, is separate again.

 Legal and financial penalties for any found to be at fault will be high. Each company will already have its lawyers busy protecting its interests.

 The disaster comes almost exactly two years after the Southall crash and the inquiry into that disaster is sitting now.

 Louise Christian, the lawyer for the victims' families, wrote in the Guardian last Wednesday: "The inquiry has already heard compelling evidence that purely on grounds of expense, action which could have been taken by the rail industry and the government to prevent such collisions has not been taken.

 "They, like those suffering because of yesterday's crash need to know that the time for excuses, paper shuffling, delay, unsuccessful prosecutions and official hypocrisy is over."

 In the wake of last Tuesday's crash more and more people are waking up to the fact that privatisation and all it implies -- profit seeking and fragmentation of responsibility -- have seriously undermined rail safety.

 ATP must be fitted to all trains as soon as possible. Until this happens another similar disaster could be waiting to happen at any time.

 But in the long-term the only sure way to improve rail safety is through renationalisation.

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London councils call for £1 billion housing programme

by Caroline Colebrook

THE ASSOCIATION of London Government, which represents London councils, is calling on the government to invest fl billion in an emergency programme to build 15,000 new low-cost homes over the next three years.

 The councils are trying to deal with a mounting crisis and around 38,000 homeless families, now lodged in temporary accommodation.

 The ALG reports that some authorities are approaching breaking point and are unable to cope.

The problem is exacerbated by soaring house prices in the capital -- they are now 11 per cent higher than they were at this time last year.

 The average London house now costs around £120,000.

 This means that people who get behind with their mortgages are more likely to be evicted quickly because the building societies can make a big profit reselling the home.

 It also means that people on lower and moderate incomes cannot find affordable homes in the private sector.

 "There is an enormous squeeze on housing available for low income families because many private landlords are selling properties to cash in on the housing boom," said Chris Holmes, director of the housing pressure group Shelter.

 "Thousands of people simply cannot afford either to rent privately or buy their own home."

 Shelter says that low-income families are being priced out of housing altogether, while middie income earners are often unable to get a mortgage.

 The capital has also seen the arrival of hundreds of workers moving from the north in search of work.

 Another factor is the large influx of refugees from Yugoslavia after the Nato war against that country earlier this year.

 Some London boroughs have had to cope with more than their share of finding emergency accommodation for refugees.

 The ALG is also asking the Department of the Environment for more money to modernise older houses.

One official said: "We are going to tell the government that London needs a bigger share of the national cake because of its special problems."

 But fewer affordable or "social" homes are being built. The numbers on council house waiting lists rose by five per cent last year but the supply continues to diminish.

 Council tenants still have the rightto buy and now whole housing estates are being transferred to the private sector -- housing associations, private finance initiative schemes and such.

 The tenants get their homes spruced up but lose their secure tenancies and rents sooner or taler rise as they become exposed to market forces.
 Nevertheless this is still counted as "social housing" or "community homes" by the ALG and the Labour government.

 The ALG estimates there cou Id be around 200,000 families waiting for council homes by next year.

 The Labour chairperson of the ALG, Lord Toby Harris, said: "There is a drastic shortage of temporary accommodation and the only real answer is to provide more social housing through building new homes and renovating empty ones -- both very expensive options."

  Council tenants last week lobbied the Labour Party conference as part of the Daylight Robbery Campaign.

 This highlights the system by which the government gets poor residents to subsidise those who are even poorer by making them foot the bill for housing benefit.

 Campaigners claim that £8 billion in council rent from low income tenants is being used to pay part of the rent of those on benefit.

 "It is a huge scandal," said Richard Smallman of the Daylight Robbery Campaign. "The government says there is no money left for repairs, yet it is diverting about £1.3 billion a year. The council house repair bill for England and Wales is an estimated £20 billion."

 Campaigners say the system "robs the poor to pay the poorest" and that the money should be used instead to improve sink estates and that the bill for housing benefit should be paid from central government funds.

 Some Blairite councils have used this lack of money to do repairs as a motive for transferring estates to the private sector. If housing benefit was funded as it should be by central government, the tenants on those estates could have had their homes improved and modernised and still kept their status as council tenants with secure tenancies.

 The government has admitted the system needs changing and has proposed a new system to be introduced by 2001.

 But campaigners say this system is confusing and still central government will not be paying the full housing benefit bill.

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Russian forces to create "secure zone" in Chechnia

by Steve Lawton

RUSSIAN military forces are within striking distance of the Chechen capital of Grozny, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last Tuesday, and operations to create a "security zone" were underway in the captured northern territory, he said.

 Efforts to eliminate Chechen Islamic separatists -- who aim to establish a separate Islamic state -- are intensifying. Border areas through which Chechen rebels passed to Daghestan and their home bases are now under sustained attack.

 Around 100,000 civilians, about 10 per cent of the Chechen population, are now estimated to have fled -- mostly to fragile neighbouring and impoverished Ingushetia.

 Combined methods of assault through aerial bombing, rocket strikes and tank thrusts, have brought Russian forces within 20 miles of Grozny. But in the process they have lost two planes -- a Sukhoi-25 fighter and a Sukhoi-24 bomber.

 The fighter was brought down by a Stinger. Comparisons with the CIA's open supply and direction of Stinger attacks against the Soviet air forces in Afghanistan will be an uncomfortable reminder of where this can lead.

 The border region and the Chechen infrastructure have suffered a second week of air and ground attacks. The action of the Russian government is supposed to tighten the noose around Chechenia in a way that prevents the slaughter on both sides that occured in the 1994-6 war.

 Last Saturday Russian ex-Premier Sergei Stepashin, cautioned against setting up a puppet regimme in Chechenia -- which is fast breaking down economically. He said that Daghestani's could turn against Moscow if their destroyed villages are not rebuilt before Winter sets in.

 In Chechenia, the bombing is being compounded by Russia's key energy companies cutting off supplies, supposedly due to nonpayment of debt: electricity supplies are down to a minimum, and gas flows have been shut down altogether.

 Chechen president Asian Maskhadov, in power since 1997 has declared martial law, yet it is all too apparent that he is fast losing any independent control of Chechenia.

 And while moves and counter-moves are being made to exchange prisoners, Stepashin was dismissive of Chechen militants' intentions: "Those who are fighting against us now have never fought openly. They have always fought stealthily, shooting us in the back." Many of the current Chechen leaders were at the forefront of the mid-90s war.

 Speculation has been rife that President Boris Yeltsin is using the Chechen-Daghestan crisis to engineer a suspension of the December elections. The Chechen separatist leader Shamil Basayev has accused Russian intelligence of carrying out the Moscow bombs to prosecute the war against Chechenia as part of Russian electioneering.

 Growing unpopularity of the Yeltsin regime may put paid to his shot at a final third term (unless the constitution is revised). And there is mounting pressure for corruption investigations into the whole Yeltsin entourage.

 His daughter, Tatayana Dyachenko, a computer engineer, said last Sunday that he will "set a precedent of a normal, civilised departure from politics." Unlike, that is, the "civilised" departures of four previous Premiers at Yeltsin's whim in less than two years.

 The fact remains that this unfolding conflict will provide the US-led Western powers with more opportunities to strengthen Nato force doctrines in the region.

 A cordon sanitaire around Russia of hot spot internalised conflicts and struggling statelets would help keep the East out of the global running for some time to come.

 But once regions are devastated and broken up, the consequences have effects far beyond the shaky borders. Kosovo has, to date, brought that home more than anything in the West.

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British News

Ford workers walk out over racist bosses

by Daphne Liddle

AROUND 1,300 workers -- black, white and Asian -- at the Ford motor company plant in Dagenham, Essex walked out on unofficial strike last Tuesday in protest at management failure to deal with institutionalised racism in the plant.

The walkout follows a long litany of problems involving racism at the plant.

 The previous week, an industrial tribunal had heard the Transport and General Workers' Union condemn Ford management over what TGWU general secretary Bill Morris described as "one of the worst cases of racist intimidation the union had ever dealt with".

 Engine plant worker Sukhjit Parma was subjected to years of abuse, humiliation, threats of assault and sabotage of his work.

 The company admitted liability and Bill Morris called on the world president of Ford, Jac Nasser, to tackle institutional racism at Dagenham.

 The strike ended on Wednesday in talks with the management. But the company was still saying it did not understand the reason for the strike and that it practised zero tolerance of racism.

 But workers on the shop floor -- 45 per cent are non-white -- say: "There's a hell of a lot of racist attitudes and actions within Dagenham. It's like a tinder box and takes little to light the fuse."

 Things reached boiling point last week when an Asian shop steward, Jaswir Tega, belonging to the AEEU engineering and electrical union, was pushed by a white foreman dangerously close to the conveyor belt.

 The foreman was transferred to another department but not suspended as the unions had demanded.

 The walk-out began in the paint, trim and assembly areas where shop stewards said workers had lost confidence in the ability of Dagenham managers to deal with the endemic racism.

 The Dagenham locality has been targeted over many years by racist outfits like the National Front and the British National Party.

 According to Gerry Gable of Searchlight magazine the BNP has been active in that area recently and is trying to set up two new branches in the locality.

 TGWU race relations officer Bob Purkiss told the New Worker: "The company has not taken sufficient steps over practices and procedures for dealing with racism."

 He said there had been a series of incidents that had not been properly tackled, "so the workers took action to show the strength of feeling.

 "Ford workers have not been on strike now for 10 years. This was not over pay or hours. For them to take spontaneous action like this shows the strength of feeling on the issue."

 All unions involved have withdrawn from Dagenham's equal opportunities committee because it is so ineffective.

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