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Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition

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Editorial - Stop NATO's war!

Lead Story - End the war now! Hands off Yugoslavia!

Feature - Disabled protest at benefit cuts.

International - Irish agreement stalled says Gerry Adams.

British News - Farm workers demand social justice.


Stop NATO's war!

YUGOSLAVIA'S offer of a ceasefire was rejected out of hand by Nato leaders last Tuesday evening. Nato's decision to carry on with its relentless bombing was taken quickly and, like the launch of the war itself, without any reference to national parliaments.

Nato is not interested in restoring peace to Ihe Balkans -- it wants nothing less than the total capitulation of Yugoslavia to imperialism's terms. Negotiation and mediation are not on its agenda. It intends to wage its war until Yugoslavia surrenders and accepts foreign military occupation of part of its sovereign territory.

It has been clear all along that Washington and London were not concerned with peace but with completing the break-up of Yugoslavia. If peace had been of any concern at ail, the separatist elements in Kosovo would not have been encouraged and secretly helped by the West in the first place.

The Kosovan Liberation Army and separatist forces were cynically used by imperialism to provide political coverfor whatever action Washington eventually decided to take. The KLA and the people of Kosovo were merely pawns in a bigger game -- they were never going to be allowed to decide the fate of Kosovo or redraw the Balkan map.

Nato has also chosen to completely ignore the current discussions taking place in Belgrade between the Yugoslav government and moderate Kosovan Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova. The Kosovan leader, who initially supported Nato intervention, is now calling for an end to the Nato bombing and "the killings".

Ibrahim Rugova, like millions of people around the world, can see that the terrible suffering of the people of Yugoslavia, including the many thousands of Kosovan refugees now pouring into Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania, has dramatically escalated since Nato's war got under way.

There are also growing fears that Nato will extend the war onto the ground. This possibility cannot be ignored in Belgrade and military leaders on both sides will be preparing for this eventuality. If Nato decides to send in ground troops there is no doubt that Kosovo would be the battleground -- the exodus of people from this potential theatre of war is therefore not surprising.

Both sides are clearing the lines of civilians -- Nato wants refugees lifted out of the border areas as soon as possible and Yugoslavia is almost certainly concerned to prevent a potential fifth column of Kosovan separatists remaining in Kosovo to assist Nato forces. Nato has itself created the humanitarian disaster that it blames on Milosevich.

Protests against the bombing and the danger of all-out war are taking place in cities all over the world -including in the Nato countries themselves. One reason why Nato rejected the Yugoslav ceasefire is its fear that it would be difficult to restart the bombing at a later date.

Nato, though it is doing its best to Publicly ignore the demonstrations against its war, knows very well there is opposition within the Alliance, including member governments under pressure to break ranks.

Another issue the pro-Nato media ignores is the economic impact of its war. The people of Yugoslavia suffered years of western-imposed sanctions -- a factor in fuelling the reactionary nationalism the West was able to exploit. Now the economic strangle-hold is being tightened by devastating bombing of energy supplies, communications, transport, factories and the infrastructure -- of course these targets, we are told, are only military.

Furthermore, every bomb dropped on Yugoslavia is ultimately being paid for by the working people of the Nato countries.

The Nato war chest that we are providing is apparently bottomless. Our government, that wants to cut disability benefits and maintain its other spending limits on social provision, doesn't even bother to mention the cost of this terrible war!

The country, we are repeatedly told, can't afford decent pensions, decent school buildings, proper pay levels in the public sector and so on, but it has no trouble at all in finding millions upon millions to bomb working people in Belgrade!


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Lead Story

End the war now! Hands off Yugoslavia!

by Andy Brooks

YUGOSLAV calls for a ceasefire have been spurned. Nato's response was step up the bombing designed to bring the Belgrade govern ment to its knees. But the mood in the Yugoslav capital and the rest of the country is hardening as the people close ranks around their defiant government in its battle against the might of imperialism.

Anglo-American warplanes and missiles are raining down on Yugoslavia hitting civilian and military targets throughout Serbia and Montenegro while thousands of Kosovans flee to escape the fighting. And now Western leaders, led by Clinton and Blair, are preparing the public for a land invasion, which the Yugoslavs warn will be bloodily contested.

peace offer

Yugoslavia's call for a weekend cease-fire over the Orthodox Christian Easter was dismissed out-of-hand this week as "inadequate" in London, Washington and Bonn, though some of Nato's junior members are rumoured to have welcomed the Belgrade initiative.

Russia has launched another diplomatic offensive calling for an urgent mee ting of the so-called Group of Eight on the crisis while ruling out all but humanitarian aid for the Yugoslavs.

And the President of Cyprus, Spyros Kyprianou is flying to Belgrade amid reports that the Yugoslavs are ready to release three US servicemen captured last week after they strayed over the border from Macedonia.

terror bombing

Nato's wrath is now turning to civilian targets -- bridges, railway lines, factories, schools and government buildings. Hospitals and power stations have been hit. Large numbers of houses have been destroyed and many people killed. The Yugoslavs put the death-toll at 300 though Russian and Romanian reports say that thousands have died in the bombings.

In Kosovo the bombing has led to a mass exodus of the very people the West claims to be protecting. Even the ethnic Albanian Kosovan leader Ibrahim Rugova, who called for Nato intervention in the past, is now demanding a halt to the bombing. Rugova held talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevich last week.

In a joint statement read out on Yugoslav television both men called for a solution to the Kosovo problem by "political means".

stiffening resistance

If Nato hoped to crack the Yugoslav's spirit by bombing then they're hopes have been dashed. The Balkan war enters its third week with no sign of weakening morale amongst the Yugoslavians who have held big patriotic rallies in Belgrade and other cities to show their defiance of the bombs and missiles of the West.

Many are wearing "target" badges to show that they are all targets of the Nato raids. Others wear "Sorry, we didn't know it was invisible" badges -- referring to the Stealth fighter shot down last week.

According to Serbian television two Stealth warplanes have been shot-down and other Yugoslav papers claim that 31 Nato warplanes have been hit including two helicopters shot down over Mount Tara with the loss of 50 US troops.

The Greek newspaper Athinaiki backed up the story claiming on its front page that 19 of the dead had already been shipped out in body-bags via the northern Greek port of Thessaloniki. Nato has only admitted to the loss of one plane, the Stealth fighter whose wreckage was shown to the world's press by the Yugoslav authorities, and the three US soldiers taken prisoner last week.

MPs call to end the war

Three Labour MPs, Tony Benn, Tam Dalyell and Alice Mahon, want Parliament recalled to debate and vote "on the biggest bombing operation in Europe since the war".

In a joint statement they said: "For the sake of its own credibility, Nato has now adopted the aim of destroying Yugoslavia's ability to wage war. But, as the ever expanding list of 'legitimate' targets For Nato bombing shows, this means destroying the basis of a modern economy in Serbia, as was done in Iraq".

The three MPs called for a mass turn-out for this Sunday's anti war demonstration. All three are speaking at the rally in Trafalgar Square together with Jeremy Corbyn MP, Bruce Kent and CND Chair Dave Knight.

* All readers are urged to support this demonstration called by the Committee for Peace in the Balkans. Assemble 12 noon, Victoria Embankment (near Embankment Tube).

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Disabled protest at benefit cuts

by Caroline Colebrook

DISABLED people from all over Britain rallied outside Parliament on Tuesday 30 March to protest at the government's Welfare Reform Bill which will lead to cuts of around £750 million to disability benefits.

The lobby was organised by the Disability Benefits Consortium. It was supported by public sector union Unison, the Campaign to Defend the Welfare State and One Plus, an organisation representing one parent families.

Proposals in the Bill will deny vital benefits to thousands of people who become disabled in the future, who may have been making National Insurance contributions as well as those who have spent years bringing up children or caring for disabled relatives, providing huge savings to the state.

The new Bill will not provide any security for people who have to retire early due to disability or lose their jobs when they become disabled.

Those making pension provisions now will be penalised for having built up disability pensions.

Dr Lynne Jones, Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, said: "Changes in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill will hit some of the most vunerable people in society.

"Means testing Incapacity Benefit for example, will mean that thousands of people who have already paid for this through their National Insurance contributions may well receive nothing if they have a pension which is merely a half of average earnings, around £9,300.

"This will he seen as a breach of faith by the government. Those affected will feel absolutely betrayed. It cuts clean across the government's aims of encouraging people to save for retirement."

Lorna Reith, director of Disability Alliance, added: "The abolition of the Severe Disability Allowance will hit women particularly harshly. Those caring for others and those in low paid jobs can no longer expect any security and support."

The protesters also had some criticisms of the position taken by former Welfare Minister Frank Field.

Incapacity Action said: "Frank Field is no friend of welfare. In opposition and as a Minister, he pushed for benefit cuts to people with disabilities, single mothers and children. And he chose Chile 's example on private health cover and pensions.

"His 1998 Green Paper, A new contract for welfare, spread the insults that many people who claim Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit are frauds, and one million disabled people could get a job if they wanted to.

"But a Department of Social Security-commissioned report. Leaving Incapacity Benefit (PSI 1998), found that people forced off Incapacity Benefit had continuing health problems which prevented them getting jobs.

"Many returned to Incapacity Benefit. The few who could get jobs were no better off because wages are so low."

The Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill, through the New Deal and "single gateway" to work, compels everyone of "working age" who claims money to live on -- single mothers, unemployed people, people with disabilities and long term illnesses -- to attend an interview "to discuss the options for work". Only "terminally ill" people will be exempt!

The New Deal will not take into account choice, type of work, wages, hours or conditions.

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Irish agreement stalled says Gerry Adams

by Steve Lawton

SETBACKS in the Irish peace process cannot go on indefinitely without the whole edifice of progress enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement -- endorsed by referendum - being put at serious risk of collapse.

"It is clearly in crisis," Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams MP told an Easter rally in Dublin last Sunday. "The impasse remains. The institutions are blocked and the Agreement is stalled." He said: "Sinn Fein will return to the renewed discussions [next week] determined to see the full implementation of the Agreement."

There is growing concern among nationalists and Republicans that the British and Irish governments are failing so consistently to decisively contain unionist tactics and move to implement the agreement's provisions.

At this late stage in the process, with several deadlines already broken and persistent attempts to accomodate the Unionist veto at the expense of Sinn Fein, there is virtually no room or time left now for any further backsliding.

If deadlines are treated as transitory and the decisions in the voted for Agreement relegated to unionist expediency, there isn't just a stalemate there is a darkening void in which loyalist paramilitarism can fester and grow to present the possibility that ceasefires may end.

But this, as Gerry Adams said, is a crucial condition: "The hopes and relative confidence of many people in the North comes mainly from the continuation of the ceasefires and not from and great confidence in the political process.

The fear is that the joint declaration last week by Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Premier Bertie Ahern will appear as if there is a creeping move and acceptance of downgrading the agreement to a point where it becomes meaningless.

The declaration's fudge-like semantics left it open to all sorts of interpretations. It states that decommissioning is "not a precondition but is an obligation"; and later, it announces that a "collective act of reconciliation ... will see some arms put beyond use on a voluntary basis".

This will occur one month after nominations "of those to take up office as ministers when powers are devolved." No dates yet.

Gerry Adams acknowledged that there were some "other positive" features, "but there is also a lot of confusion" about the declaration. It was, he said, not an all-round agreement but a draft position between the British and Irish governments.

"We are sincerely and genuinely committed to the transformation of Irish society ... Our goal of a united Ireland is not merely aspirational. It is an achievable goal -- a just and democratic goal.

"And we have a strategy that can create the conditions in which the people of the island can end the union with Britain and unite in freedom and independence."

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British News

Farm workers demand social justice

by Steve Lawton

FARMWORKERS are campaigning for a basic package of improvements to pay and conditions in an industry notorious for its casualisation, gangworking, dire wages, long hours, lack of protection, frequent accidents and deaths -- one a week -- and a slashed labour force from 287,000 in 1980 to 170,200 today.

Barry Leathwood, national sec retary of the Rural, Agricultural and Allied Workers' Trade Group of the transport union TGWU, said it took "protracted negotiations" with the Agricultural Wages Board from 15 to 17 March to get an offer out of them.

The result is that minimum wages for permanent farmworkers will barely increase from £4.26 (£166.08 a week) to £4.36 an hour (£170.23 for a 39 hour week) effective from 6 June.

Casual workers, who make up 40 per cent of the farm labour force, will receive a 14.5 per cent increase from the paltry £3.21 to £3.69 an hour which, according to Barry Leathwood, means a closing of the pay gap between casual and permanent workers.

That would create "less of an incentive to casualise the workforce" and help to reinforce the security of permanent workers, he said.

The TGWU had launched its campaign to demand £5 an hour, a 35-hour week and a contributory pension scheme -- modest demands considering the subsidies to farmers. To hit the target of £5 an hour the pay of 75 per cent of female workers and 34 per cent of male workers would have to be uprated.

Discussions are underway on the pensions issue. Currently, only 17 per cent of employers in farming offer pension schemes to workers.

Barry Leathwood pointed out that farmers nationally received subsidies in 1998 which covered the total wages bill with £728 million left over. He said Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies have risen by 541 per cent in the last 10 years to £3,582 million a year.

Much is made of the "collapse" in farmers' profits. Most at risk are small farmers. Askham Bryan College near York, said in a report that of 232 farms targeted in Yorkshire, their income had dropped in the 1997-8 period from £26,184 to £631.

It said it is the first time in the 22 years of the rural business unit's publication, sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture, that an across the board negative result has occurred.

The main indicator of farm income is wheat, that has fallen by 24 per cent resulting from a 19 per cent fall in price and a 15 per cent fall in yield. Much the same has happened with other crops. The Yorkshire Post described this as a "severe depression".

Nationally the TGWU said that between 1990 and 1995 overall farm incomes had risen by 90 per cent. Now, farmers estimate that nationally incomes have fallen by about 75 per cent over the last two years.

Barry Leathwood had earlier said: "Workers were never offered a substantial increase during those years to try and raise them from poverty wages. But they are expected to take the rap whenever there is a drop in income."

As the union claim explains, farmers' profits soared in the mid-1990s and none of it, needless to say, has been shared with workers, while since 1973 labour productivity has more than doubled. Over four years to 1998, subsidies to farmers rose 44 per cent, but "hired labour costs rose only seven per cent."

"There is a clear issue of social justice in the redistribution of this money within the industry", the claim emphasises.

An important part of the union claim is the 35-hour week. The TGWU says British farmworkers work an average 47.5 hours a week, 4.5 hours more than the European average or 12.5 more than France and Italy.

The TGWU demand highlights four key factors:

*British agricultural workers work five hours more a week on average than those in Europe;

*long hours lead to more accidents -- 54 farmworkers died last year;

*shorter hours reduces unemployment;

*shorter hours to allow workers more time with their families.

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