The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 18th August 2000

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Editorial - The good life.
Lead Story - Give us back our buses and trains.
Feature - Front line project against racist attacks.
International - NATO troops storm Serb factory in Kosovo.
British News - Builders lives held cheap.


The good life

"SPIN", or what used to be termed "deception ", is not just a method used by politicians to put the best possible gloss on their own party or government. It is also a general tactic employed by the ruling class, through the mouths of their many lackeys, to put the best possible gloss on the capitalist system itself.

 Celebrities and their partying lifestyles are constantly pushed under our noses. There are even magazines devoted to photographs and stories about the homes, clothes, romances, divorces and so on of rock and film stars, TV personalities, fashion models and various others of the rich, thin and well-tanned brigade.

 Such over-exposure is obviously meant to convey an image of the good life and to inspire all of us to want this for ourselves. The rich are to be icons for the people.

 The trouble is the fashionable "celebs" are for the most part just extremely well paid members of the entertainment and fashion industries. They are not the wealthy capitalist elite that comprises the ruling class -- that section of society prefers to shun the limelight.

 And the idea that we should all dream of living in this fairyland world is the biggest deception of all, since, in the real world, the gap between rich and poor is widening all the time.

 What's more this gap will continue to get wider and wider for as long as capitalism holds sway. This is because capitalism cannot escape from the dynamics of its own system -- in particular the tendency for the rate of profit to fall and the efforts of the capitalists to deal with this dilemma by screwing the workers more and more.

 This involves attacks on wages, increases in working hours and worsening working conditions.

 These days even this deterioration of the quality of life is done by sleight of hand and is accompanied by spin. Modern management, particularly in white collar sectors, is less likely to court a workplace struggle by announcing a rise in working hours.

 Instead workers are given individual job-plans, contracts or projects which they are expected to carry out. The tasks are designed to overrun the usual work time and the workers feel obligated to slay until the work is done. Like Pontius Pilate, the management will wash its hands of the problem and pretend the hours have not been changed and suggest that the workers are simply inefficient or slow.

 In the manufacturing sector the worsening of conditions is often achieved by crude threats of plant closure if productivity is not increased.

 Wholesale privatisation and deregulation has also been used to break old agreements and replace them with new contracts on terms that are worse for the workforce. Collective national bargaining has been seriously undermined by the ensuing break-up of industries.

 These trends make it more important than ever for the labour movement to organise along the lines of industrial unionism -- that is for workers in the same industry to be represented by the same union. Trade union mergers, which are mainly done for financial reasons, need to reflect the needs of the workers and not just the needs of the full time officials.

 It is also vital to step up the struggle to roll back the anti-union laws introduced by the Tories. The Labour government has made a move to restore the right to trade union recognition. But that is just a beginning -- there is still much that needs to be won back. It is especially important to reverse the ban on secondary picketing now that so many industries, like the railways, have been broken into a multiplicity of different companies.

 There also needs to be an awareness that low pay can only be properly addressed by organiscd trade union struggle -- plans like the National Minimum Wage are too passive to provide the wage rises we need and they do not ensure that all bosses comply.

 In short, capitalism can only deliver the good life to a tiny minority. Most of us will continue to rush around juggling work and family responsibilities. We hardly have time to live our own lives let alone swan around at film premiers or spend weeks of every summer traipsing between Henley, Ascot, Queens Club and the Long Room at Lords.

 For the majority of people the real good life requires the building of a socialist society, in which the interests of people are the priority.

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Lead Story

Give us back our buses and trains

by Daphne Liddle

PUBLIC transport in Britain continues to decline while it is owned by the private sector as yet another batch of reports has revealed last week.

 One report from the pressure group Transport 2000 which hit the press last Sunday showed that big bus operators are cutting the rural services in favour of the more lucrative town centre routes.

 Passengers from places as far apart as Glasgow, Cornwall, Cheshire and Gloucestershire are complaining that services are disappearing fast.

 Three big companies -- Stagecoach, Aniva and First Group -- control most of Britain's local buses.

 David Redgewell, the Somerset area campaigner for Transport 2000, warned that First Group is planning to withdraw completely 57 routes in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.

 Four depots are scheduled for closure along with at least two ticket and information centres.

 Mr Redgewell admits the services to be withdrawn could never be profitable. But he says, the operators should be compelled to keep them running as a vital lifeline for isolated communities.

 In theory the franchises held by these companies do compel them to maintain rural services but the clauses are not enforced.

 The new Transport Bill, likely to be enacted this autumn, will give local authorities more power to enforce the terms of the franchises -- but there are still no guarantees they will.

 Often when a service is withdrawn itis the local authority and taxpayers who must pick up the bill of restoring some sort of skeleton service -- that is bound to continue to be a drain on the public purse.

 And local authorities just do not have the same legal and financial resources as giant companies like Stagecoach for court battles.

 Instead local authorities have gone down the less contentious and more trendy "partnership" route. Since privatisation, a process of monopolisation has taken place among the private bus companies leaving just a handful of giant companies that are far more powerful than the local authotities.

 Tom Harris, speaking for the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority, said: "We are sceptical about partnerships between bus companies and local authorities being effective without binding contracts behind them."

 The Government has promised to double expenditure on local bus services over the next decade to £4 billion. But until the service is renationalised there is no way to ensure that money is spent where it is most needed and does not simply end up as share dividends for the big companies.

 Meanwhile on the railways the effects of cost-cutting by private companies was exposed last week by a report in the Western Mail from a young driver working for Valley Lines.

 He warned that safety is being compromised as train drivers are being rushed through training so quickly they are known as "microwave drivers".

 This driver, who preferred to remain anonymous, said also that cuts in middle management was hampering management ability to control safety.

 The company has refuted these claims but they seem to be supported by figures from the Health and Safety Executive.

 These showed three incidents of trains passing signals at danget on the small Valley Lines network in the first quarter of this financial year.

The HSE is also looking into an incident of a train setling off along a single-track line without the required authorisation.

 One HSE staff member said: "There have been instances where employees have been told to keep a train in service by the control office, when all the guidelines tell you it must come out of service for safety reasons. Profit comes before safety."

 There are further claims concerning the inadequate training of the new "microwave" drivers. One HSE staff member said: "The standard of training is poor and drivers are pressurised into signing for routes before they are fully familiar with them.

 "There are some good people employed by Valley Lines and there are bad apples, as with any company. But even the most conscientious employees are suffering low morale."

 The inquiries into the Southall and Paddington rail crashes have shown these companies have littie to fear from the law even when neglect and cost-cutting does lead to disasters and the loss of passengers' lives.

 Another report last week confirmed yet again that London commuter train services are continuing to decline, with Conner, which operates the busiest routes in the country, providing the worst service.

 When the services were privatised we were assured the various watchdogs would ensure the quality and safety of service. Most of us knew even this promise was hollow. The watchdogs are toothless.

 Now the Labour government is assuring us the new Transport Bill will introduce effective controls. It will not. The legal departments of the big business companies will continue to shrug off the regulations while pocketing profits from passengers and tax-payers alike.

 The only solution is to bring public transport back under public control.

 There is just one London bus company heading in the right direction. The publicly owned and controlled London Buses Limited has retaken control of routes formerly operated by Harris Bus in Hackney, east London and Belvedere in south-east London and is running them under the newly formed public company East Thames Buses.

 Dave Wetzel, deputy leader of Transport for London, the new umbrella authority for London buses under mayor Ken Livingstone, has promised this new public ownership will be permanent.

 We should demand it is the first of many such transfers.

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Front line project against racist attacks

by Caroline Colebrook

DEV BARRAH, racial harassment officer for Greenwich Council for Racial Equality, last Monday (14 August) opened an empty flat on the Ferrier estate that has been set aside for a new racial harassment monitoring unit office.

 The giant south-east London estate -- just a mile or so away from the spot where black teenager Stephen Lawrence was knifed to death by racists -- was built by the Greater London Council in the 1960s and is now showing all the signs of neglect and vandalism associated with the west council estates.

 The tenants are a rich ethnic mix but the Ferrier has a long history of racist attacks and harassment.

 A number of families have been forced to move out. GCRE has mixed views on the policy of moving the victims of racist attacks.

 Its most recent report says: "The policy provision that the council could transfer or rehouse tenants on account of racial harassment in certain circumstances is a very positive and important one.

 "Of concern however, is its susceptibility to random use and abuse. Abuse because some people are wont to see it as an easy way to gain a transfer and avoid the queue and points system.

 "On the other hand, some officials would prefer the transfer option Tot its convenience. It is useful in ending frustrating or heady cases by simply offering an alternative accommodation. There is however a common danger in both scenarios.

 "in the absence of action against the perpetrators, moving victims is not a terminal solution. The perpetrator is left to harass future ethnic minority families who may be allocated to the vacant property."

 Often the families moved out -- who are given only one choice of new address -- find themselves moving "from the frying pan into the fire" and have to move again.

 There is a great shortage of safe places to move victim families to. The nearest council estates to the Ferrier, in the south of the borough are several decades older.

 These pre-war estates are on average 97 per cent white. This is due to racist housing policies in the past but there are several reasons why change does not come quickly.

 Around 40 per cent of the homes on these estates have been bought by tenants under the right to buy and around 30 per cent of what is left is occupied by pensioners.

 All this adds up to very few homes becoming available on these estates and those black and Asian families who do live on them feeling very isolated.

 The real long-term solution is to identify the attackers and evict them. The local borough has clauses against racist harassment in all its tenancy contracts and does occasionally enforce them.

 The GCRE racist attacks monitoring unit has recorded a 32 per cent increase in racist attacks in the borough over the last year, including 182 assaults and 28 incidents involving knives.

 And it is calling for a policy from the council that does not only offer help and support to victims after an attack but takes the initiative on prevention.

 The aim of the new office on the Ferrier is to monitor all kinds of harassment and to identify the perpetrators.

 So far funding has been won from strategic renewal budget for this office to be a pilot scheme -- staffed for just one week a month for six months.

 Dev Barrah told the New Worker this is not enough to engender confidence in the project from victim families and he is now engaged in recruiting volunteers to keep the office staffed for normal office hours every weekday.

 The project cannot yet offer a rapid response service though the GCRE racist attacks monitoring unit does offer such a service on a borough-wide basis.

 Already local racists seem to have got wind of the arrival of the race harassment monitoring unit and the outside has been graffitied.

 The daubings include nationalist flags, a bulldog and the question "Who's in the house?".

 This is a project in the heart of where it is needed most, right on the front line against racism.

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NATO troops storm Serb factory in Kosovo

BRITISH SOLDIERS along with other Western troops stormed a Serb factory in Nato occupied Kosovo last Monday, shutting it down on the pretext that it was a health-hazard. Four Fusiliers were slightly injured in clashes with the workers who pelted the KFOR detachment with bricks and stones. One Serb worker was gravely wounded when he was hit in the head by a rubber bullet.

 Nine hundred British, Danish and French KFOR troops backed by armoured cars and helicopters moved in on the Serb-owned Trebca lead smelter in Mitrovica in a pre-dawn raid on the last remaining factory in Kosovo still in Serb hands.

 They claimed they were enforcing an edict from the UN imposed administration (UNMIK) to ensure the installation of filters. Susan Manuel, speaking for UNMIK said: "The lead smelter was a health hazard to the local population. Blood tests have shown alarming lead levels in Mitrovica,".

 She also claimed that the smelter's Serb managers had refused to co-operate with UNMIK's demands for the installation of the filters. But in this town which still has a sizable Kosovan Serb community the general feeling amongst the Serbs is that this is yet another move to strip them of any remaining control in what is still legally a province of Yugoslavia.

 This was made clear by the UNMIK spokeswoman when she added that "the plant's managers are appointed by Belgrade and they were not producing for Kosovo". She said UNMIK was determined to assert its right to manage the firm, part of the big industrial complex in the town, and its profits.

 "We are determined to revive the Trebca mining complex as part of a unified Kosovo," she stated.

 The Serb general manager of the plant, Novak Bijelic, was arrested by the KFOR police the night before the raid and expelled from the province without explanation. Now in Serbia, he remains defiant.

 "Fascists expelled me and my parents from Metohija in 1941 when I was just a toddler," he told the press. Bijelic was born in Kosovo and has lived most of his adult life there.

 He added that 16 Trepca factories had been destroyed on the orders of the UN governor, Bernard Kouchner. He cited the example of the torching of the zinc processing plant in the southern, ethnic Albanian populated part of Kosovo-Mitrovica. And he said the flooding of coal mines owned by the Serbian electric power company in Kosovo had thrown many Kosovan Albanians out of work as well.

 Trebca's own figures refute the claims of dangerously high levels of lead and suphur dioxide in the air, a view backed by the Kosovska Mitrovica city hospital.

 The UN administrator. Bernard Kouchner has appointed a 30 strong team of administrators and engineers to run the plant. He says an agreement will be shortly signed with an international consortium to take over the running of the whole mining complex, appoint executives and a Board from all the local communities. As for the old Serb manager, Novak Bijelic, he's been told he will not be allowed back into Kosovo for three months.

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British News

Builders lives held cheap

by Renee Sams

THIRTY workers have been killed in accidents on construction sites in Britain in the first four months of this year, a union leader told a large crowd of building workers on the steps of London's St Paul's Cathedral last Friday.

 George Brumwell, general secretary of the construction workers' union Ucatt was addressing a mass rally called to commemorate all those workers who have been killed on construction sites.

 He warned that if employers did not stop the carnage then "builders will have to stop the job". He said that Ucatt is planning to launch a safety campaign to gain support from other trades unions and the general public.

 Just the day before the rally, a building worker had fallen eight floors from a site in central London -- while Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had been meeting officials from the Health and Safety Executive to discuss safety.

 On 21 May this year, three men employed by Hewden Stewart plunged to their deaths from 25 storeys as a crane collapsed at the site of a new HSBC bank at Canary Wharf.

 These two accidents highlight the appalling dangers building workers face every day.

 Recently released HSE figures show that site deaths increased by 20 per cent last year compared to the year before to 86.

 "I put the blame squarely on employers," George Brumwell stressed. "There are plenty of laws, plenty of rules and regulations. What is needed is the will to implement them."

 "When it comes to law," he added, "we have to fight for our rights. But it is apparent that employers can get away with flouting it."

 And when it comes to fines they get away very lightly. Only 41 prosecutions were brought last year and 13 of these resulted in fines of less than £1,000 -- the same as for failing to have a TV licence.

 He noted that the Government has talked tough on accident prevention but also that promises have not been kept.

 The latest issue of the Health and Safetv Bulletin reported that over the last two years staff employed by local authorities -- who now have the main responsibility for enforcing safety at work legislation -- to work on health and safety have been cut by over 16 per cent.

 George Brumwell was quite clear that "if the employers and the Government don't do something about it then we will have to take action ourselves.

 "We are not prepared to put up with the way building workers have been treated over the years.

 "We want to go home to our families safely after work every day as other workers do. Justice is on our side."

 The Transport and General Workers' Union is also putting its weight behind this campaign.

 Bob Blackman, TGWU national secretary for building and construction workers, said: "These fines are insulting and more importantly they are not working. A corporate manslaughter law would create 20 years of change overnight and instil a safety culture in an industry where the fine for fatal negligence can be less than for forgetting to pay your TV licence.

 "The Government is Britain's largest construction client so they are perfectly placed to take a lead on these issues.

 "Their contracts make up 40 per cent of the industry's business and they should be leading the way in instilling a safety culture in construction.

 "At the moment there is no safety culture whatsoever and these fines are proving no deterrent."

 The Construction Safety Campaign is calling for:

  * safety representatives to be protected from victimisation by employers and roving safety reps to be appointed;

  * all information from the HSE to be publicly available;

  * workers to have the legal right to stop any job when faced with danger;

  *  for HSE investigations and prosecutions to be based on breaches of law and not the availability of resources;

  * every employer whose negligence results in the deaths of workers to serve a term in prison;

  * substantial penalties for serious injuries to workers when employers are found guilty;

  * compulsory surveys for asbestos and its safe removal when found in properties.

 The Construction Safety Campaign has organised a national meeting for 9 September at the Trade Union and Labour Club, North Bridge Road, Doncaster starting at 11am.

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