The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 9th February 2001

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Editorial - Who pays?
Lead Story - New war threat to Middle East.
Feature - Steel workers stand together.
International - Iraqi girl now blind.
British News - Straw attacks 1951 refugee convention.


Who pays?

THE whiff of a general election is in the air. Already the smear merchants are busily looking for stories and the three major parties are setting out their stalls and practising their sales patter.

 The Tories, who represent the seriously rich, are pushing their usual line of income tax cuts. Well they would, wouldn't they. Those with the greatest wealth obviously stand to gain the most from such a policy.

 They claim they could make £8 billion worth of tax cuts without slashing spending on health, education and public services. Labour, quite rightly, points out that these figures don't add up and warns that spending cuts would have to be made if tax cuts on this scale were introduced.

 To broaden the base of support for this 'fat cats' policy, the Tories are now proposing scrapping all tax on savings for those on the basic rate of tax. This may well tempt the minority who can manage to put a bit by, but it won't be worth a candle if the services we all need are squeezed even more than they are now.

 The sub-text of this Tory proposal is the usual old rubbish about standing on your own feet, saving for your old age and looking after yourself.

 It's all pretty cynical given that even the Tories know their Thatcherite ideas can't work for the majority of people because wages are too low and unemployment is set to rise -- the threat to the steel industry is a clear warning of the fast approaching recession. Already personal debt is a big headache for many people and saving is out of the question when short-time working and redundancy knock at the door.

 The same realities apply to Labour's more modest tax proposals. These focus on Chancellor Gordon Brown's plan to give more tax relief for families with children.

 There is no doubt that child poverty in Britain is a scandal and many families are under enormous strain because of the long hours parents have to work and the dire shortage of good quality, affordable child care.

 But tax credits would only benefit some families. Those without a wage-earner and those on the lowest incomes will be no better off. The looming recession will of course make tax concessions less and less relevant to more and more families.

 What is really needed is for Labour to break the mould set by previous Tory governments on taxation and spending and to shift the tax burden onto the shoulders of the rich -- it is after all the fruits of our labour which lines their pockets and it is this wealthy elite which is getting richer while the poorest get poorer.

 The prospect of yet another recession means the rich will spare no effort in protecting every penny of their unearned income and profits extracted from the exploitation of labour. Talk of higher direct income tax for top earners would provoke squeals of rage.

 These parasites want normal service to continue -- that is for the working class to bear the brunt of the crisis their capitalist system has created. They want the poor to pay for them.

 They hope that offering little crumbs of tax relief to various targeted groups of people will divide the working class and cloud the issues.

 They hope we will forget who gains most from tax cuts and who stands to lose. And they certainly hope we have given up on the fight against VAT -- the most unjust tax of all since everyone has to pay at the same rate regardless of whether a person owns billions or hasn't got two halfpennies to rub together.

 The issue of the injustice of VAT should be raised loudly. We should not fall into the trap of thinking this is a lost cause simply because it is a tax which stems from the European Union. If we accept that false argument we will never protest at anything Brussels throws at us and we will be treating the capitalist classes of Europe as untouchable and unreachable.

 It is worth noting that even the Euro-sceptic Tories do not oppose VAT. The capitalists in every country of Europe support such indirect taxation because they know it makes the working class pay the lion's share. Our fight is to reverse that situation and make the rich pay through a policy of progressive direct income tax -- we say scrap VAT and let everyone benefit!

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Lead Story

New war threat to Middle East

by Our Middle East Affairs correspondent

GENERAL Ariel Sharon, the leader of the reactionary Likud bloc, has won the Israeli premiership elections.

 His defeated rival, General Ehud Barak has resigned as leader of the Labour Party though he will remain caretaker premier until Sharon forms his government.

 Speaking to Labour supporters, Barak said "Friends, we have lost a battle but we will win the war."

 Sharon's victory came as no surprise to the pundits. The Likud leader had a 20 per cent lead in the opinion polls and he garnered 59.5 per cent of the vote to Barak's 40-odd per cent share when the voting took place.

 But Sharon's victory is likely to be a hollow one -- the 60 per cent turn-out was the lowest in Israel's history even though most workers got the day off to vote. And this was largely due to the fact that the Israeli Arab minority and some ofthe peace activists had boycotted the polls.

 The Israeli Arabs -- Palestinians who managed to keep their homes after the first Arab-israeli war ended in 1949 -- account for some 14 per cent of the electorate. Most followed the call from the communist led Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and the Arab democratic parties to boycott the vote.

 For them there was little difference between a Barak who wanted a total Palestinian surrender in return for a few crumbs and Sharon and his openly Arab-hating supporters who will give nothing but whose future is already in doubt.

 Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, said the vote "was a signal to the Labour Party that this false romantic relationship between us as an Arab sector and the Labour Party has ended. We cannot accept that we are always losing with the losers and losing even with the winners.

early election?

 The Israeli Arab MP added "I think this government will be the shortest government even in the history of Israel. We will, from the very beginning, act in order to bring it down and have an early election for both Knesset and prime minister."

 That could come soon. Sharon has to forge a bloc to have a majority in the Knesset. He's offered to form a "government of national unity" with Labour but it's an offer Labour can easily refuse. Veteran Labour leader Shimon Peres, who wanted to stand instead of Barak, is waiting in the wings for his final moment of destiny. And Peres needs to get the leadership first. Then he'll move for a snap poll if he thinks Labour can win.

 Sharon could try to cobble together a minority government with the support of the small Jewish religious parties but their fundamentalist and fanatical agenda will polarise Israeli society even further. The new Israeli premier has got 45 days from 13 February to form a government. He must then get Knesset approval for his budget by 31 March. If he fails new elections automatically follow.

 To most Arabs Sharon is the "Butcher of Beirut" a war-criminal responsible for many deaths when Israel marched into Lebanon in 1982. In Syria Al Baath -- the daily of the ruling Arab Socialist Renaissance Party said "By choosing Sharon, Israel is actually choosing escalation, terrorism and aggression and severing its last thin link to the peace process... the victory of the bloody terrorist and war criminal Sharon a clear message by the Zionist entity to the Arabs amounting to an official declaration of war."

 In Iraq General Ali Hassan al Majid was even blunter. "You should not ask me about the Zionist regime. We are setting up a Jerusalem army to liberate Palestine." he declared.

 In Lebanon the leading daily Al-Safir called on the Arabs to be ready for a new era of struggle. "Fatigue or fear of the new murderer should not lead us to surrender without fighting."

 And it was business as usual in the occupied territories. Sharon celebrated his victory by strutting over to the "Wailing Wall" a Zionist shrine in the heart of Arab Jerusalem. Gun battles erupted in Hebron between the Palestinian resistance and armed settler thugs holed up in their enclave and an Israeli soldier was shot dead by the resistance in Gaza.

 Some say that the prospect of the Sharon government brings the region nearer to war. Most Arabs know that the war began in 1948 and never ended. Nor is it likely to now.

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Steel workers stand together

by Renee Sams

ANGRY steel workers held an emergency conference in London last Friday after the shock announcement by the Corus group of mass plant closures and joh losses.

 Corus realises it faces the threat of industrial action and so backed down on the immediate implementation of its plans, giving the unions two weeks to come up with an alternative strategy to save jobs.

 On the closure list are the Ebbw Vale site in South Wales with a loss of 780 jobs and the Bryngwyn site, also in South Wales with 127 jobs.

 The giant plant at Llanwern is to lose its iron and steel-making operations together with the annealing and tempering facilities with the loss of about 2,000 of the 3,000 jobs there.

 And on Teeside, the closure of the coil plate mill will cost 234 jobs.

 Throughout this year there will be further closures of the annealing and tempering facilities and galvanising mill at Port Talbot which has been mothballed for some time.

 The amalgamation of the head offices of construction and engineering steels sections will lead to another reduction of 400 jobs. The streamlining of central functions, including the corporate centre, will see another 200 office jobs disappear.

 Overall there will be 6,050 job losses with the biggest cut at Llanwern, an area that has already lost many industrial jobs.

 Bob Shannon, a national officer of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, told the emergency conference: "We had braced ourselves but none of us saw how deeply we would be affected. We are shocked and bitterly disappointed at the scale of job losses.

 He said the company had had "enormous co-operation from the workforce" and expressed his anger that far from just changing direction, as Corus had described the package, "they are taking the capacity out of the workforce".

 At the same time as the conference, just a few miles away in the City of London there was rejoicing as they heard of the steel giant's plans to "restructure" the industry in this country and its aims to rule out further capital investment and to keep necessary expenditure on plant to a minimum.

 Trades were overjoyed, marking the company's shares up by ten percent.

 Corus was attacked by MPs and the Government for its shock announcement. Ministers are working with the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC) to try to save jobs and plants as they believe there will be an upturn in the steel market in the not too distant future.

 The Anglo-Dutch Corus Group has 63,900 employees and 23 business units located worldwide. It was formed from what remained of British Steel in October 1999 which merged with the Dutch company Koninklijke Hoogovens.

 It is chaired by Sir Brian Moffalt, a former British Steel accountant earning only a modest salary who made his name by axing jobs at Port Talbot in the 1980s. Today, at the head of the Corus Group, his earnings are fabulous.

 The measures that Sir Brian is proposing are aimed "to significantly improve the Group's competitiveness" and will result in "the reduction of over three million tonnes of iron and steel-making capacity".

 He blamed the "poor perPormance" of Corus and "lack of growth" in demand in Britain. Last year, he said, the British part of Corus made a loss of £350 million

 He did not mention that in 1999 the company paid out an £800 million special dividend to share holders to sweeten the merger with the Dutch company, and so has not invested very much in the company to renew and maintain plant and improve competitiveness.

 When former Prime Minister Thatcher privatised British Steel, the company was given a £4 billion subsidy from taxpayers. It also benefits from a re-jigged pension fund that yields £1 billion every year.

 In 1996 the company made pretax profits of £1 billion but despite all that money it lost £350 million last year.

 Corus exports more than half its production to Europe and worldwide there is a glut of commodity steel production with prices at a 20-year low.

 A nother complicating factor is the lack of demand from the domestic industry, which fell by 13 percent between 1988 and 2000.

 Steel making in Britain has also been hit by cheap imports, especially from Russia and Asia. According to statistics From the Iron and Steel Statistics Bureau in 1970 Britain had a market of 19 million tonnes, of which 18 million tonnes were made here and the rest imported.

 By 2000 we were exporting only 7.3 million tonnes and importing 6.6 million tonnes.

 But the steel workers are not giving up. ISTC general secretary Michael Leahy warned: "If Corus will not enter a meaningful dialogue, then I have to say this, whilst we believe in the force of argument, our members are in the mood for the argument of force."

  The steel workers employed by Corus in Britain are being supported by their Dutch colleagues who have vowed to boycott any orders transferred from Britain.

 Dutch steel unions FNV Bondgenoten and CNV met Michael Leahy earlier this week to finalise details of the boycott.

 Genit Idema, leader of FNV Bondgenoten, said workers at the Corus plant in Ijmuiden are furious about the way their British colleagues are being treated.

 He said: "Workers in Holland cannot understand how 6,000 people can be sacked and how there wasn't another way to solve the problems."

 Michael Leahy said: "The resolution not to take orders from the UK is especially significant for Ebbw Vale. Nothing that Corus announced last week is a done deal."

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Iraqi girl now blind

MARIAM Hamza, the Iraqi girl who received leukemia treatment in Scotland after a dramatic appeal by George Galloway MP has now gone blind and doctors say there is no hope of restoring her sight.

 The seven-year-old girl has been receiving treatment in the United States assisted by the Bruderhof Communities, a US-based group campaigning for the end of sanctions against Iraq.

 "Her eyes were carefully examined and it was determined that she had suffered damage to the macular areas of her retinas, the optic nerve and the centre of sight in her brain," the campaign reported.

 "There is no hope for her eyesight to be restored. Mariam has been condemned to live in darkness because of the cruel and criminal sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United States through the United Nations," it said.

 "Because the sanctions prohibit the importation by Iraq of the parts necessary to maintain the equipment used to determine correct dosages for treating leukemia patients, it is very difficult for doctors to administer the medicines required to successfully treat leukemia. As a result Mariam, an innocent child, became blind".

 Mariam returned to Iraq this week via the Jordanian capital, Amman. There she was met by George Galloway's wife, Dr Amineh Abu Zayyad. "At the moment she's doing very well," she said. "She's been going to physiotherapy and she's really fit and looking happier. She's learned to swim. She's ok. Her blindness is irreversible but French scientists are carrying out work that could eventually help."

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British News

Straw attacks 1951 refugee convention

by Daphne Liddle

HOME SECRETARY Jack Straw last week tried to match the Tories in playing the anti-asylum seeker card in the runup to the general election by proposing new draconian measures against refugees for the whole European Union.

 And since many of his proposals would contravene the 1951 United Nations Geneva Convention on Refugees, drawn up after the horrors of Nazism had just been defeated, he has proposed that this convention should be rewritten.

 He claims it was a "well intentioned protocol" signed just after the Second World War when millions of displaced citizens roamed the world and asked should it apply in today's conditions?

 The truth is that today there are again millions of refugees wandering around the world. Only a small fraction ever end up in Europe but most are displaced by wars that are either waged or fostered by the western imperialist powers.

 Straw proposes that all European Union countries should have the same harsh policy on asylum seekers, that they should agree among them to take certain quotas from those deemed to have been living under oppressive regimes and bar the rest.

 There would be a long list of countries deemed safe and no refugees would be accepted from these. These countries include the Czech Republic and Romania where Roma people now suffer real persecution under the new capitalist regimes.

 Earlier in the week, Straw had already dispatched a party of immigration officials to the Balkans to try to stem the flood of refugees coming from there towards EU countries.

 He claims to be trying to put a stop to the criminal gangs who traffic in smuggling people into other countries, including Britain.

 If there is no legal way to find asylum what else can they do?

 Straw's proposals also include sending "illegal" and "bogus" asylum-seekers straight back to where they have come from. How can their claim for asylum be judged if they are deemed bogus on sight? Many genuine people are forced to use deception to escape oppression and illegal methods to travel.

 Already this country sends back thousands of refugees on a technicality if they fail to fill in complex legal claim forms without examining their case at all.

 Many refugees coming to Europe or fleeing war-ravaged parts of Europe have been displaced by imperialism in the first place and it should be our ruling classes that pay the bill through taxation of the very rich.

 The danger is that Straw's electioneering ploy is also looking like a good vote-winning tactic to many other European governments. Strong interest has been expressed by Germany, France and Italy, as well as support from the Canadian and Australian governments.

 But Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers was concerned about the attack on the l951 convention. He said: "We should not erode the convention. I don't think we should start to water down our international obligations. We have to share the burden in a fair way but Europe is a very prosperous continent."

 In Britain Gurbux Singh, who chairs the Commission for Racial Equality, said: "I did not get the impression that the issues had been fully thought through and there were some real question marks about the practicality of what he [Straw] was proposing."

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