The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 8th September 2000

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Editorial - Lottery danger.
Lead Story - Crisis in our schools.
Feature - Skills shortage leads to immigration policy rethink.
International - Truckers bring France to a standstill.
British News - A great day at Burston.


Lottery danger

 THE news last week that another £47 million was going to keep the Millenium Dome solvent aroused fury in much of the capitalist press. Apart from the usual jibes against the Labour government from the Tory papers there was also a more general criticism of the whole idea of continuing to prop up the Dome. The money could, it's argued, be better spent.

 But this apparently attractive argument is fraught with danger. It encourages the idea that lottery money should be used to help the NHS and other public services in need of extra cash and undermines the lottery's original spending rules.

 So, what's wrong with that? Surely it would be better to help hospitals rather than the Dome? The problem is that the public services are the responsibility of the government and should be funded through a taxation system that is fair -- that is a system of income tax which takes most from those who have most.

 The lottery should not become an extra tax upon the poor, albeit a voluntaly one, while the wealthy continue to be let off the hook. At present the unjust tax levels of the former Tory governments still apply. The rich continue to benefit from a tax system which is grossly weighted in their favour. Top levels of tax need to be raised -- not lowered even further.

 Once lottery money is allowed to supplement government funding for vital services like the NHS it will quickly become a regular practice and eventually a normal part of the budget. The government of the day could then consider cutting taxes on the rich even further.

 It is interesting that in the recent contest for control of the lottery it was the bid put in by Richard Branson that seemed favoured. This was the bid that boasted of making more money available for "good causes". Could it be that the Treasury has its eyes on this money and that the media is just softening us up for yet another method of taking from the poor to give to the rich?

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Lead Story

Crisis in our schools

by Daphne Liddle

THE START of the new school year this week revealed the most serious shortage of teachers in our classrooms in England and Wales for over two decades.

 In London alone there are vacancies for 1,000 leachers.

 Research from the National Union of Teachers published last week has revealed head teachers resorting to desperate measures to try to ensure that every class has a teacher.

 They are using unqualified and untrained teachers, including technicians. New staff are being appointed without even being interviewed.

 Teachers are being sought in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In some cases the curriculum is being modified to fit the staff available. And class sizes are growing.

 "When push comes to shove," said one headteacher, "you've got to put a body in front of the class. So long as you know they are not going to kill a child or maim them, what choice do we have?"

 Another said: "I was in great danger of losing the teachers of the two other classes due to stress and violence, so we took on this lady after a 20-minute interview on the phone to Australia. It was an act of faith."

 Government figures show all schools fully staffed but the NUT has found that at the end of last term 10 per cent of all teaching posts fell vacant in those schools surveyed and four per cent of posts are still vacant.

 This is three years into a Government that promised us "education, education, education". And it is a crisis that has been predicted over and over by teaching unions who have warned that pay and conditions are worsening as more and more burdens are laid on teachers.

 Teachers have been repeatedly insulted and ignored. They have been made scapegoats for an abysmally funded education system. They have been forced to compete in exam league tables and now they have had perform ance pay imposed to set each teacher in competition with their colleagues.

 This year has seen yet another improvement in GCSE and A level results. But far from being congratulated, the teachers and hard working pupils have been told this must mean the exams are getting easter.

 Chris Woodhead, the leader of the Government watchdog Ofsted, has insulted teachers and students by saying: "We need A levels that are as academically rigorous as they have ever been. Indeed I would like them to be more rigorous.

 "As standards rise in schools then we ought, in our public examinations, to be looking to raise the level of demand at all levels as well.

 "Let's preserve A levels that really do stretch the intellectually most able but let's recognise that such qualifications are only for a minority."

 In other words, if the majority of working class pupils can pass A levels then they can't be worth having.

 And of course, whatever the teachers do by his standards they are doing wrong.

 He does not consider that the rising pass rate may be due to pressure from the Government to excel in exam tables that makes schools reluctant to allow pupils to sit exams if their chances of passing are in doubt.

 Many children are probably being denied the chance to have a go because of this.

 Woodhead was head of Ofsted under the Tories but Labour have kept him in place in spite of his blatant elitist attitude. This is not the way to provide equal opportunities for working class children. What is the real agenda?

 The Government is now rushing head over heels to privatise "failing" schools and "failing" local education authorities. The failures result from long-term underfunding and complex social problems.

 The policy of naming and shaming failing schools, sacking teachers and putting in new high paid super-heads is proving, predictably, an abject failure.

 Ten out of 11 superheads have quit within a year or so. Quick fixes like this will not give our children a better education.

 Even schools with good resuits are being threatened for not making enough improvement. The ultimate agenda is to privatise the lot.

 Business people are not going to be able to improve education where trained professionals could not.

 The Government knows this. Mass privatisation will create a second-rate education system for working class children.

 It will turn out pupils qualified only to run the wheels of what industry we have left but denied the opportunity for real educalion. It is the education policy of Wackford Squeers.

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Skills shortage leads to immigration policy rethink

by Caroline Colebrook

THE GOVERNMENT is considering relaxing immigration laws to persuade foreign "entrepreneurs" to come to Britain and fill gaps.

 A pilot scheme is to be set up under which the rigid immigration rules would be eased for those with "intellectual property" -- such as a business idea for ecommerce. This could be the forerunner of more sweeping reforms that would allow thousands of qualified workers to settle.

 It will be a major departure from immigration policy under both Labour and Tory governments since the 70s which has virtually barred people coming into Britain with the idea of settling and working.

 The only exceptions have been those with relatives in this country, asylum seekers deemed genuine or those setting up a business who could prove they had at least £250,000 to sustain themselves.

 Home Office minister Barbara Roche is due to outline the scheme on 11 September in a public speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research.

 From next April, under the pilot scheme, foreigners will be allowed into Britain on a points basis up to a maximum quota of 100,000.
 The points will be awarded on the basis oftheir age and qualifications.

 They are expected to fill gaps in information technology, engineering and teaching.

 Predictably some right-wing papers have reacted with racist scaremongering about hordes of foreigners being allowed in.

 And the decision takes place against a background of racist ploys from the Tory party on foreign doctors being a danger to patients because of language problems.

 Also various NHS trusts, schools and education authorities are sending recruitment teams all around the globe in a desperate bid to fill vacancies in nursing and teaching.

 These gaps are the result of long-standing Government failures to pay nurses and teachers and to invest in health and education.

 Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe has condemned the plans and claims they will lead to more illegal immigration.

 The plans also ignore the fact that there are many highly qualified asylum seekers languishing in detention centres and evenjails who are prevented by law from working in their professions in this country.

 It would be far cheaper to give these people the necessary language and other training to fill places here.

 Also the policy is shameless exploitation of developing countries who have invested in training these qualified people.

 Already Nelson Mandela has complained that Britain is enticing away South Africa's best doctors and social workers.

 Setting up a brain drain that will hit south Asia, Africa and the Philippines will increase the gap between the rich and poor countries.

 And of course much more investment in our own education system so that it can produce the full range of skilled workers needed.

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Truckers bring France to a standstill

STRIKING French truckers have rejected the government's latest offer to end a dispute which has brought much of France to a standstill this week. Lorry drivers and militant farmers are blockading nearly all the oil refineries and fuel depots in the country as part of their campaign for cheaper fuel.

 Over eighty per cent of petrol stations have run dry and rationing has already been imposed in some regions. Parisian boatmen joined the growing movement against high fuel prices on Wednesday blocking the Seine with a line of barges.

 In the south Nice airport warns it may have to cancel flights if the protests continue and the highspeed train network has been disrupted by protesters who have set fire to tracks or driven vehicles onto them.

 Talks between the Transport ministry and the main freight federation broke down mid-week when the haulies rejected the government's proposals as "insufficient".

 The National Federation of Road Hauliers (FNTR) which represents 15,000 road haulage firms said "the proposals formulated last night by the Transport Ministry go in the right direction, but they were deemed insufficient". The decision was taken after consulting their local representatives, who unanimously rejected the deal.

 The government -- forced to back down to similar demands from trawlermen demanding a cut in diesel last week -- offered to cut fuel tax by 35 centimes (3.5p) a litre this year and 25 (2.5p) centimes a litre in 2001. The FNTR looking fora cut of at least 5p a litre this year.

 The protests so far have come from the great swathe of French small businesses and the selfemployed sector who are effectively organised in powerful trade federations.

 And the social-democratic government is wary of confronting these powerful lobbies. It has cried to pin the blame for the rise in fuel costs on the oil-producers themselves, ignoring the fact that a large part of the cost to the consumer is the duties levied at point of sale not to mention the crash in the value of the Euro against the dollar over the past 12 months.

 Organised labour is standing to one side. The General Confederation of Labour issued a statement this week pointing out that if the government did meet the hauliers' demands it would do nothing to help workers in the industry.

 This was echoed by the French Confederation of Workers which said the hauliers were "defending only their own interests" which ignored the problems of the road haulage industry.

 These included the "deplorable social conditions, salaries worthy of indignation, unpaid hours of overtime and lack of respect for minimal safety conditions" -- none of which originated with the increase in fuel prices.

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British News

A great day at Burston

by New Worker correspondents

HUNDREDS of trade union and labour movement activists descended on the tiny Norfolk village of Burston last Sunday. With banners unfurled they marched the one and three quarter mile Candlestick before assembling on the village green for speeches, songs and entertainment.

 The annual celebration and commemoration of "The Longest Strike in England" was revived in 1983 and has been held ever since.

 Back in 1914 Annie and Tom Higdon, the two village schoolteachers, were sacked by the local squirearchy on trumped-up charges because of their socialist political activities including their support for the agricultural workers.

 Their pupils went on strike in support of their teachers and set in motion a chain of events that culminated in the involvement of wide sections of the Trade union movement at home and abroad, the setting up of the Strike School and a bitterly fought strike against the local education authority that lasted for the next 25 years.

 At Sunday's rally many trade union and left wing organisations displayed their banners and had stalls. Prominent among the banners were the National Union of Teachers, the Communication Workers' Union and the TGWU general union.

 John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, made a clear call on the Government to restore the link between the basic state pension and average earnings, pointing out that as Michael Portillo had predicted, without this link the state pension will continue to wither to become of negligible value.

 "Unless the Government restores the earnings link," he said, "and protects the value of the pension, we will be making Portillo's awful prediction come true.

 "Restoring the earnings link will raise morale in the labour movement and erase the painful memory of the 75 pence a week pension rise.

 "That is why the GMB is putting down the pensions motion at the TUC and why it is drafting a motion for the Labour Party conference."

 Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn agreed to speak at short notice after Tony Benn was forced to pull out because of his wife's illness.

 The threatening rain held off, allowing the NCP stall to raise over £50 and sell more than 60 New Workers.

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