The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 22nd September 2000

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Editorial - Now that the tankers are rolling.
Lead Story - Labour tumbles in polls.
Feature - London pensioners freeze while Scots invest in heating.
International - "No return = No peace!".
British News - Ford workers walk out.


Now that the tankers are rolling.

PETROL is back in the pumps, the queues at the service stations are going, and life is returning to normal except for the editorials in the bourgeois press and those in Labour's inner circle.

 The Tories, buoyed up by their sudden rise in the opinion polls last week, are baying for Blair's blood. They've suddenly discovered the virtues of a cut in petrol duly after years of hiking it up when they were in office.

 The road hauliers and farmers hope that special pleading will get French-style concessions for themselves though when the action was on they were eager to claim they were fighting for all consumers.

 Blair & Co are busy blaming everyone but themselves for the mess they are in. They tried blaming the Arabs and the other oil producers but that didn't work. They are trying to divert attention to the global extortion of the big oil corporations though they know they have no control over them.

 In fact they want to talk about anything apart from the one thing the Government does control -- the extortionate rate of tax at the pumps. So we are going to be told again and again that the duty cannot be cut except at the expense of hospitals and schools.

Squeeze the rich

THERE are two easy ways to compensate for loss of petrol tax revenues: increase income tax at higher levels and cut arms expenditure. Both are taboo subjects as far as New Labour is concerned.

 Restoring income tax to the pre-1979 levels won't bring back the golden age but it would go a long way to solving the fiscal problems of this Government. The wealthy have enjoyed the biggest tax break in British modern history and they can well afford to pay at least what they paid before.

 Labour used to call it the "redistribution of wealth" before that too became a taboo word amongst the ranks of the New Labour leadership. Well even under Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan it wasn't quite like that. The millionaire exploiters and land-owners barely suffered, though they did always bleat about death duties. But income tax certainly did ensure that those who earned vast amounts of money paid more for the benefits that the state provided.

 The Blair leadership uphold the Tory myth that the "great British public", sometimes called "Middle England" whatever that means, will not tolerate high income tax. Blair's spin doctors tell us Labour would pay dearly at the next election if higher rates were restored. This is simply not true. The only people who object to higher rates are those who have to pay it. Even the Liberal Democrats, not friends of working people, recognise this fact and some are now arguing for a 50 per cent rate at the £100,000 per annum level.

Scrap Trident

ANOTHER alternative which the labour movement should focus on is the colossal and wasteful British nuclear arms bill. Scrapping the Trident missile system would save billions and end the crisis in the hospitals and schools. At the moment this campaign has been left largely in the hands of CND and the pacifist movement. It is barely on the agenda as far as the labour movement is concerned.

 There is no plausible argument to justify the spending of billions of pounds on Trident while state welfare is slashed and millions of workers remain unemployed, destitute or on the poverty line. The despicable claim that the arms industry creates jobs and wealth is based on the fact that Britain is a major arms producer. It has to be countered by the demand for conversion and diversification.

 The establishment of an arms conversion plan would create industrial, manufacturing and service jobs to which workers on so-called defence projects could be redeployed. It could start by revitalising our woefully inadequate and expensive public transport system. That would reduce petrol consumption and help the environment as well.

 The people want cheaper petrol. They want jobs with dignity, good housing at affordable rates, good liee education and a living pension when they retire. All of this could be provided now -- even under capitalism -- because Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

 The wealth, the fabulous wealth of our rulers, the industrialists, speculators and land-owners, is held by that tiny minority whose decisions govern our lives. They live lives comparable to those of Roman emperors. Only revolution can end this system, but in the meantime we must campaign for reforms that make the rich pay for the crisis. They've got plenty. They can afford it.

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Lead Story

Labour tumbles in polls

by Daphne Liddle

THE PRIME Minister and the Labour Party leadership last week took a sharp battering in the opinion polls in the wake of the fuel crisis.

   According to a Guardian/ICM poll earlier this week, Labour has fallen 10 points from 44 per cent to 34 per cent while the Tories have gained to reach 38 per cent -- putting them ahead of Labour for the first time since the May 1997 general election and certainly ruling out any possibility of a snap general election this autumn.

 Even with this sudden swing, the latest figures indicate that an election right now would produce a minority Tory government held in powerby the Ulster Unionists.

 The change is purely down to the Labour leadership's mishandling of the petrol crisis and its blatant contempt for mass public pinion rather than anything the Tories have done to gain favour.

 Hague has spent the summer making a fool of himself, jumping on all manner of bandwagons and claiming to be a great boozer.

 But nevertheless many former Tories who voted Labour in 1997 are returning to the Conservatives, disillusioned with Labour.

 The sleaze scandals whicll rocked the Tory leadership in its last years in power are happening again under Labour. The efforts to court "Middle England" are failing.

 The truth is that most people are fed up with both party leaderships an the danger is that people will become cynical and alienated from politics altogether.

 Blair has not succeeded in fooling anyone with his indirect taxes on petrol that fail to discourage unnecessary car use but do penalise those on low incomes and those living in rural areas with poor public transport disproportionately.

 This does not mean that people want the Tories back again but that could happen unless the Labour Party leadership is forced to listen to working class demands and put forward policies that will really improve the lives of the masses of workers in this country.

 As the Labour Party conference approaches there is now a real opportunity for the Left in that party to press its demands.

 These must include reducing unnecessary car use by a dramatic improvement in public transport provision. Fares must be lower on buses and trains and there must be a lot more of them and they must be reliable. Regular bus routes must be extended into rural areas and new rail lines built.

 But this cannot be achieved while these vital services remain in private hands. They must be renationalised.

  The 75 pence insult to pensioners must be erased by granting them their main demand restore the link between average earnings and pensions -- not some complicated means-tested sop that allows the basic state pension to wither and delivers us all to the mercy of the private pension companies.

   The madness of privatisation must be halted and reversed especially in housing. Council housing must be restored and renovated, not indirectly delivered into the hands of the banks via housing associations.

  The Private Finance Initiative that sets chains of debt burdens round generations to come must be abolished.

  The taxes on fuel must be cut and the revenue made up by making the rich pay realistic levels of income tax. They have been on a bonanza too long.

  Labour must regain credibility in the polls by ditching Tory policies or we could all be faced again with the horror of a real Tory government.

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London pensioners freeze while Scots invest in heating

by Caroline Colebrook

MORE than 26,000 pensioners in London die from cold in an average year, according to research done by London University and published in the British Medical Association journal.

 This works out at a rate of 3,129 per million of the capital's population aged between 65 and 74 and means that the elderly are more likely to die of cold in London than in other European countries, including Scandinavia.

 In the north of Finland, where the average winter temperature is ten degrees Celsius below the average London winter temperature. The death rate among the same age group is 2,457 in every million.

 The researchers say their results show that freezing areas of Europe cope better than relatively warm areas such as London.

 The leader of the research team, Professor William Keating, said: "People in cold regions of Europe take more effective protective measures against cold than people in warm regions. In the cold regions mortality rates rise less steeply as temperature falls."

 A spokesperson for Age Concern said the figures were the result of decades of neglect in Britain of the housing stock.

 Many homes are cold, draughty and poorly insulated. The poorest pensioners live in the worst housing and they cannot afford necessary improvements.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the Scottish Executive last week decided on a massive programme to install central heading, free of charge, in the homes of the nation's pensioners and council tenants who do not already have it.

 The programme will take five years and cost around £350 million. It should benefit 70,000 people aged 60 and over and 71,000 council and housing tenants.

 Most benificiaries will be in Glasgow and Edinburgh where 30 per cent of local authority homes do not have central heating. In the rest of Scotland the average is 10 per cent.

 The installation of central heating will be accompanied by improvements to home insulations and the programme should cut pensioners' fuel bills on average from £920 a year to £470.

 The decision was welcomed by pensioner groups and by the Federation of Small Businesses who say it will provide "much economic benefit".

 Funding will come mostly from Scotland's £3.4 billion allocation of the Comprehensive Spending Review and will be supplemented by funds from Scottish Homes and the Warm Deal, resources from reduced debt repayments, obligations on new landlords and private sector interests including Scottish Gas, Scottish Power, Scottish HydroElectric and Transco.

 The programme has been welcomed by Help the Aged and Age Concern. And Ann Loughrey of the charity Energy Action said: "We hope this initiative will remove forever the scenario each winter of the old and poor sitting in front of a two bar electric fire and worrying about tokens running out foor the electric meter."

 The deal is not quite so rosy as it seems for Glasgow council tenants. The city is in the process of trying to transfer its entire housing slock to the private sector.

 This will mean higher rent and less secure tenancies in the long run which the investment in central heating will improve the value of the stock for the new owners.

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"No return = No peace!"

by Renee Sams

THERE are now 5.3 million Palestinian refugees scattered in camps and different countries across the world, making them the largest refugee community in the world.

 For the last 52 years they have been fighting to return to their homeland. Since 1948 when Israel drove the Palestinian Arabs out of their homeland, some 473 Palestinian villages have been destroyed and the people are angry, they are demanding an end to their exile.

 On Sunday 17 September some 2,000 Palestinians and their supporters staged a rally in Trafalgar Square, demanding that they be allowed to return home.

 They pointed out that Israel is still breaking United Nations resolution 194, which says that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so".

 The rally also marked the anniversary of the 1982 massacres at Sabra and Chatila.

 Michael Mansfield QC chaired the rally. He had recently visited the camp at Gaza and reported "serious deterioration" in living conditions in the camps where people live in poverty and children lack education.

 Dr Salman Abu Sitta, a right of return expert, highlighted the Israeli actions as "a crime against humanity" and described Israel as "a land occupied by a foreign minority" simply because "they claim to be Jews".

 The Israeli government has created a "web of disinformation to deny the refugees' the right of return," he said. "It has continued to claim that the country is too full of people and here is no room for the refugees to return.

 "But only 14 per cent of the land is currently occupied 200,000 people are holding on to land that belongs by right to those who were driven out.

 "They claim also that Hebrew is the only language. But is fact as so many of them are of foreign origin, some 32 languages are spoken in Israel now."

 Dr Sitta called for the land to be "restored to the largest refugee community in the world".

 Anni Kanafani, whose husband Ghassam was murdered by Israeli agents, also addressed the rally. She is president of the Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation which has set up kindergartens and schools and helped to improve the lives of children in refugee camps.

 She told the audience of her sorrow when she discovered that "refugees in the camps have no rights whatsoever -- they are classed as foreigners in their own land. Israelis consider them a burden."

 "The Palestinian leadership has been fighting against tremendous odds," said Dr Ghada Karmi, chair of the Association of the Palestinian Community in London, "not only against the Israeli government but their backers in the United Nations and Britain. They are all arrayed against us," she added.

 Richard Burden MP, of the Advancement of Arab-Britain Understanding, said they were asking for "no more and no less than the implementation of UN resolution 194 and we must do all we can to bring that about."

 Letters from several MPs in cluding George Galloway and Tony Benn, adding their voices to the call for a just and lasting peace and an end to the five decades of exile for the Palestinian people.

 The heartfelt call From the platform: "Next year in Jerusalem; was echoed by the crowd in the square, who had been waiting so long for a return to their homeland."

  * Dr Azmi Bishara, an Israeli Arab MP, was pessimistic when he spoke at the University ColIege, London, last Monday evening. A member of the Balad bloc in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, he called for "fairness" for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and equality for the Palestinian Arab minority, some 20 per cent of the total population, who live in Israel proper.

 Dr Bishara, the first Arab to ever run for the Israeli premiership, defined himself as an Arab. "If we are not Arabs we have to be Christians or Muslims. We become tribes fighting each other" he said and argued that Arabism was the expression of the Arab nation's modernity.

 He felt that any "final settlement" now could only be on "hegemonist terms" which would not meet a fraction of the legitimate demands of the Palestinian Arabs.

 The Israeli Arab MP also explained the problems of the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens fighting for equality in the Israeli state, which were distinct from the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, let alone the millions of refugees in Lebanon, the rest of the Arab world and beyond.

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British News

Ford workers walk out

WORKERS at Ford's Dagenham plant last Monday staged a two-hour walk-out in protest at the company's plans to end car production at the site.

  Shop stewards also called for a ballot for strike action among the entire workforce in their battle to keep production going at the Essex plant. This could result in the dispute spreading to other Ford plants in Britain.

 Duncan Simpson, a senior officer in he Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, reported a mood of "determined resistance" among the 6000 Dagenham workforce.

 The stewards' demand for a full ballot will require formal union backing but Mr Simpson said the ballot is inevitable unless the company changes its position, and there's no indication that they will.

 "If the stewards' unanimous recommendation is a reflection of the mood at the plant I'm sure we'll get a positive response," he added.

 AEEU general secretary Sir Ken Jackson has failed to persuade Ford executives to drop their plans by switching production of Volvos from Belgium to Dagenham.

School dinners dispute

SCHOOL meals staff in northeast Lincolnshire are contemplating strike action if plans go ahead to axe hot school dinners.

 The TGWU and GMR general unions and the public sector union Unison warned they will ballot for strike action after a decision by North East Lincolnshire Council in favour of introducing sandwich-based snacks, with options of pasta, fruit or soup instead of hot meals.

 The council believes the new contract can be run by just 50 people and all the present staff could lose their jobs. It claims that there is a poor take up of the meals provided and that 60 per cent of pupils go elsewhere for their lunch.

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