Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Barking council workers furious

STAFF employed by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham are outraged at a decision by the council’s assembly on 18th May to agree on the nod the removal of the right of appeal for the whole workforce.
More than 100 council employees had attended the meeting to lobby their employers only to see the draconian measure passed swiftly without debate or even acknowledgement of the presence of the workers.
One worker, a member of the GMB general union, wrote to the councillors: “I was one of the Barking and Dagenham council employees (and a ratepayer) who attended the full council assembly meeting on Wednesday 18th May.
“I attended in the hope of being able to address councillors before they voted to take away employees’ right to appeal to them concerning work-related matters.
“I have to say I am disgusted at the way we were completely ignored and the vote went through without any discussion with the employees that this matter concerns.
“In fact before the vote it wasn’t even mentioned by title what they were voting on and the vote went ahead and passed on what seemed like a nod, not even a show of hands.
“The assembly’s failure to even address the staff has led to a petition that has collected over 1,000 signatures in the first four days.”
Tony Morris, Transport and General Workers’ Union convenor at Barking and Dagenham, said: “Rob Whiteman, chief executive, has managed to earn himself a bad reputation among council staff.”
Sandra Vincent, APEX/GMB convenor at Barking and Dagenham council said: “At the moment, if any council employee is put under disciplinary action or has a grievance against the council, including accusations of bullying, harassment and discrimination and the grading of jobs, they have the right of appeal to councillors.
“As a result of the assembly’s failure to tackle the new chief executive Rob Whitman over his disgraceful proposal, the staff will lose that right as from the 1st of June this year.”
Unison branch secretary Tony Browne said: “If the council thinks that by pretending its workforce don’t exist, this issue will just go away, they’d better think again, and quickly. We’ll be back at the next assembly with a petition signed by thousands of the workforce, and we’ll keep coming back until we are acknowledged and listened to.”

Racist cop trapped by mobile phone record

A KURDISH youth who faced outrageous racist abuse from a Metropolitan Police constable secretly recorded the tirade on his mobile phone and now the constable faces the sack within weeks.
PC David Yates is currently suspended from duty and facing a criminal investigation after a court heard a recording in which he allegedly told the youth, during an arrest, that he would “smash his fucking Arab head in”.
Yates had gone to court last Friday to testify against the youth, who had been charged with a public order offence and who was arrested by Yates.
The case against the youth was thrown out of court as the judge ruled that Yates’s evidence was unreliable.
Yates had arrested the 16-year-old previously on suspicion of rape but the boy had been cleared in court.
The conversation recorded on the youth’s mobile phone featured obscenities, racist abuse and a threat to frame the boy.
Now the Police Complaints Authority is looking into the incident.
Arzu Pesman of the Kurdish Federation in Britain said her community faced routine prejudice. “Police are looking at people’s faces and considering they are criminals,” she said.
And she added that the focus on immigration during the recent election campaign had added to the abuse faced by Kurds.

Thousands march for Palestine in London

SEVERAL thousand workers last Saturday assembled on London’s Victoria Embankment for a short but noisy and colourful march to Trafalgar Square in support of the demands of the Palestinian people for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the right to return for all displaced Palestinian refugees and their families.
There were many Palestinian organisations on the march, along with trade unions, political parties and many other progressive groups who marched on regardless of several sudden and heavy showers.
There were also several Jewish groups, including the Jewish Socialist Group and Torah Jewry who were there to express solidarity with the Palestinians and to remind the world that the imperialist Zionist Sharon government in no way represents all Jews.
The demonstration is held annually on the weekend nearest to 15th May, the anniversary of the end of the British colonial mandate in Palestine in 1948 and the violent birth of the modern state of Israel, which led to the expulsion of over a million Palestinians from their homes and the Deir Yassin Massacre.
Speakers at the Trafalgar Square rally included many representatives of Palestinian organisations and regulars like Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, peace campaign veteran Bruce Kent and Tony Benn.
Also present, recently returned from his headline grabbing trip to Washington was George Galloway, the newly-elected Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.
He had lost none of his articulacy as he lambasted the deed, carried out “in that House of criminals just down the road” (Parliament) where Balfour betrayed the Palestinian Arabs and gave their land – over which he had no rightful authority – away to a third party, resulting in the state of Israel.
He also had some very harsh words for the corrupt Arab princes who time and again betray the Palestinians in order to pander to the American and British imperialists.
“The Arab peoples will never be free until they deal with them,” he told the crowd.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Barking workers defend union rights

TRADE UNIONISTS gathered outside a councillors’ assembly meeting on Wednesday, 18th May in Barking Town Hall to protest at a proposal to remove the right of appeal from the borough’s 6,000 council workers if they have a problem at work.
The joint trade unions, including the GMB, the Transport and General Workers’ Union and Unison, applied to address the assembly.
Currently, if any council employee is put under disciplinary action or has a grievance against the council, including accusations of bullying, harassment and discrimination and the grading of jobs, they have the right of appeal.
But if the council’s new chief executive, Rob Whiteman, has his way, that right will be removed.
GMB convenor Sandra Vincent said: “Councillors are being told that this change is necessary because, apparently, in some other councils where there is no final appeal to councillors, staff morale is allegedly higher than in Barking and Dagenham!
“This is of course nonsense. Staff morale will be made worse if directors and managers are no longer accountable to councillors at appeals for their decisions on matters like sex discrimination, bullying and harassment.”
Unison branch secretary Tony Browne said: “Our experiences show that the other councils who have done similar have had huge increases in legal costs as workers go to court seeking justice denied them locally. As usual the local ratepayer foots the bill.”
TGWU convenor Tony Morris said: “If the right of appeal is taken away from Baking and Dagenham’s employees then a vital safety net will be removed from all council employees and a serious wedge put between the workforce and the employer. This is all about taking power from elected councillors and giving it to unelected managers.”

Galloway socks it to the Senate

GEORGE Galloway, London's newly elected Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow who won on a platform of opposition to the invasion of Iraq, last Tuesday stunned the United States Senate sub committee on investigations, which has accused him of taking bribes from Saddam Hussein.
He attended a session of the committee to refute the slanders against him and to attack the United States government for its imperialist policies towards Iraq over decades.
The accusations were a rehash of old allegations made against Galloway, on the basis of which he won substantial libel damages from the Daily Telegraph last year.
The evidence produced included his name on a list of alleged beneficiaries of Saddam’s oil vouchers arising from the oil for food programme.
But on the list George Galloway’s name has clearly been added in a crude cut-and-paste job. The name is squeezed in, in a different typeface, a smaller size and at a slight angle to other names.
The first of these lists or alleged beneficiaries appeared in January last year in the Al-Mada newspaper, published in the US-run Green Zone of Baghdad.


A month later the newspaper Al Watan published an account of Sajad Ahmad Ali, who claimed to have forged the original Arabic document obtained by Al-Mada.
He said: “I’d like to indicate here that it was us who made – that is to say we forged – this list of names and titles of people who got money from the ministry of information, the palace and the oil for food programme.”
He went on to explain how it was done by steaming bits of paper and then drying them out to make them look old.
At the Senate sub committee hearing in Washington, Galloway listened patiently to a long list of charges read out by Senator Norm Coleman and then answered, in a clear, calm voice: “Senator, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader and neither has anyone on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one – and neither has anyone on my behalf.
“Now I know that standards have slipped in the last few years in Washington but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice.
“I am here today but last week you already found me guilty. You traduced my name around the world without ever having asked me a single question, without ever having contacted me, without ever having written to me or telephoned me, without any attempt to contact me whatsoever. And you call that justice?”
He went on to deal point by point with the allegations against him. The Senate accused him of many meetings with Saddam.
“I have had two meetings with Saddam Hussein,” Galloway said, “once in 1994 and once on August of 2002. By no stretch of the English language can that be described as ‘many meetings’ with Saddam Hussein.
“As a matter of fact I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns.
“I met him to try to bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try to persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country – a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defence made of his.”
Galloway then outlined his long and consistent record of activity to oppose the Saddam regime when Britain and the US were backing it in the war against Iran.
He then dealt with the forged documents used in evidence against him and the bogus lists of people supposed to have been bribed by Saddam. These included 270 names, among them the late Pope and the former head of the African National Congress and “many others who had one defining characteristic in common: they all stood against the policy of sanctions and war which you vociferously prosecuted and which has led us to this disaster,” Galloway said.


He concluded by pointing out that the real sanction busters were not the people accused by the Senate but the US government itself.
“Have a look at the real oil-for-food scandal,” he said. “Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when $8.8 billion of Iraq’s wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Haliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq’s money but the money of the American taxpayer.
“Have a look at the oil you didn’t even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went to who knows where?
“Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it.
“Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee – that the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians.
“The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own government.”
The US government is now trying to portray Galloway as a minor, unimportant figure compared to the Russians, French and others they are also accusing. But George Galloway’s remarks are likely to it much harder for them to sustain any accusation against anybody.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Blair on the rocks!

MILLIONS of working people voted last week to give Tony Blair and his “New Labour” platform of class collaboration and war a slap in the face that hopefully he will never recover from.
The Blairites may crow that this is the first time Labour has won an election three times in a row. But it is also true that Labour was returned with just 36 per cent of the vote – the lowest share of the popular vote won by any prime minister in history. It’s even lower than the 37 per cent won by Ramsay MacDonald in 1929, whose minority Labour Government was propped up by the Liberals. Not since 1929 has a party with fewer than ten million votes formed a government.
Labour MPs who had taken the principled stand on Iraq fared better in the poll that cost Labour 47 seats and reduced their overall majority to 66. The Tories made the biggest gains by drumming up their faithful on a racist platform that focused on gypsies and immigrants. Though the turn-out was slightly higher than last time many Labour supporters stayed at home. Others opted for the Liberal Democrats or protest candidates like maverick former Labour MP George Galloway who spectacularly defeated the pro-war Blairite in Bethnal Green on his new Respect ticket in a campaign that revolved almost entirely around the Iraq war.
Tony Blair told us immediately after the results were known that “we have got to listen to the people and respond wisely and sensibly” to the will of the British people. Well the best response he can give is to pack his bags and leave Downing Street at once before he does even more damage to the labour movement that he has done his best to wreck over the past nine years.
The first signs are not promising. After his momentary act of contrition Blair is trying to carry on as if nothing has happened. His new Government contains all the old, useless faces. Discredited David Blunkett has been brought back into the Cabinet and Andrew Adonis, one of his back-room cronies who only joined the Labour Party in 1995, has been made a peer to take up a job in the education department.
The most venal, reactionary, and aggressive elements of the ruling class – those dark forces who believe their best interests are served in alliance with American imperialism – have no alternative but to continue backing Blair. Blair’s departure would leave George W Bush totally isolated in the world and jeopardise American imperialism’s insane bid for world domination.
But the pro-European wing of Britain’s ruling circles will be heartened at the swing to the Liberal Democrats and the strengthening of that section of the Parliamentary Labour Party in favour of greater European integration.
Many more in the Labour Party now realise that Blair is an albatross around their necks that must be dumped if Labour is to remain the party of government in five years time. Some of them want Blair out at any price and believe that Gordon Brown could serve their interests. But the Chancellor is no alternative nor is his succession a foregone conclusion.
Brown has been Blair’s partner in all his treachery to the labour movement. A cosmetic change at the top will not lead to the return to traditional Labour values that millions of working people want nor will it fool the electorate next time round.
The question of who leads the Labour Party can only be answered by the labour movement itself. Demands for Blair’s resignation are spreading far beyond the ranks of the left of the Labour Party.
One Labour MP has already volunteered to act as a “stalking horse” against Blair if he gets enough support from Labour’s parliamentary bloc to trigger a leadership election. Not a moment must be lost in the drive to kick Blair out now.

new worker editorial

Labour concern over Barking BNP vote

SENIOR Labour Party officials have launched a scathing attack on the poor performance of the Barking constituency party, and its MP Margaret Hodge, for failing to run a campaign against the British National Party candidate, Richard Barnbrook, even though the BNP had declared its intention to focus its campaigning on Barking.
The BNP won 16.9 per cent of the vote and came third. The Tories secured second place by just 27 votes.
Anti-fascists staged a big campaign, delivering newsletters, in both Barking and neighbouring Dagenham but concentrated more on Dagenham because the BNP had won a council seat there last year.
Labour strategists noted that the BNP switched its focus from Dagenham to Barking precisely because of the strength of the anti-fascist campaign there. In Dagenham the BNP won only nine per cent.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Londoners pay tribute to Red Army heroism

REPRESENTATIVES of veterans’ organisations, trade unions, international embassies, the Government and the monarchy assembled at the Soviet war memorial in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum in south London last Monday to mark the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazism in Europe.
The event was organised by the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund. There were brief speeches from Philip Matthews, who chairs the trust fund; Councillor Anne Yates, the Mayor of Southwark; Secretary of State for Defence John Reid; Andrei Chupin, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Russian Embassy and Cyril Herbert of Southwark Royal British Legion.
One wreath was laid by Kira Ivanova, a military veteran and survivor of the siege of Leningrad. Representatives of the embassies of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan laid wreaths.
Other wreaths were laid by the president of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Duke of Kent; Mayor Anne Yates, John Reid, and Bob Wareing on behalf of the House of Commons; the TUC general council and London regions Ucatt – plus many more.
Auschwitz survivor and life-long campaigner against fascism Leon Greenman was among the crowd, as was Henry Metelmann, a former panzer driver at Stalingrad who has devoted his life since the war to campaigning for peace and against fascism.
It was a dignified ceremony with the most powerful messages coming from the veterans who remembered the war against Nazism first hand.
But it lacked the red flags, the hammer and sickle symbols and the music of the Soviet Union. Nor was there any acknowledgement that the Red Army fought and died to defend Soviet socialism – a workers’ state of justice and equality led by Stalin.
Meanwhile veterans’ organisations were critical of the events of the day before in Whitehall to mark the end of the war in Europe. The only event organised by the Government was a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall with a single band, only one member of the royal family and John Reid the sole representative of the Government.
Much bigger and more spectacular events were organised in capital cities across Europe.

Monday, May 09, 2005

This week in London 6.5.2005

Massive turnout for May Day

MAY DAY, Workers’ Day, was celebrated by thousands all around Britain last Sunday with a huge variety of events.
In London around 40,000 people filled Trafalgar Square for a Rock Concert under the banner of Unite Against Fascism.
They were joined by a large and colourful march of trade unionists and international community groups – several thousand strong – who had set off from Clerkenwell Green.
The march, organised by the South East Regional TUC, was ablaze with colourful banners and several different bands and three choirs provided music for the marchers.
Speaking for Sertuc, Laurie Helsden said: “We organise our march extremely well. We work very well with the police so violence has nothing to do with the traditions of May Day and it has never occurred on the May Day march itself.”
When they arrived in Trafalgar Square it was to hear music from rock singer Pete Doherty, soul singer Terri Walker and rhythm and blues singer Estelle.
There were also speeches from veteran campaigner Tony Benn and London mayor Ken Livingstone.

RMT marchers reach London

THE GROUP of 25 rail workers marching from Glasgow to London over the past two weeks to demand the renationalisation of our railways reached their destination last Saturday.
The Rail Against Privatisation (RAP) march was accompanied by hundreds of rail workers and supporters as they went from Whitehall to a public rally in Camden Town Hall.
Speakers at the rally included Tony Bann, RMT general secretary Bob Crow, Jeremy Corbyn MP, John McDonnell MP, Communication Workers’ Union general secretary Billy Hayes and PCS civil service union general secretary Mark Serwotka.
“The RAP marchers have had a great reception in the 14 towns and cities they have already visited,” said Bob Crow. “The message they have received, loud and clear, all along the way, is that Britain wants a publicly owned railway.
“That is what rail users want, it is what the unions want and it is what the Labour Party overwhelmingly voted for – and it is about time that choice was put before the British people.
“There is a huge rail rebate to be had from bringing rail back into the public sector.
“RMT has shown that public ownership can release huge funds to help get projects like Crossrail started, put staff back on our deserted stations, keep rural railways on track and promote a fairer fares policy.”
The march passed through Edinburgh, Newcastle, Durham, York, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Northampton on its way from Glasgow to London, with public meetings off the route in Dover, Cardiff, Bristol and Exeter.
RMT points out that in 1993-94, the year before privatisation, more than 90 per cent of trains ran on time. But in the year to December 2004, after a decade of privatisation, only 82.8 per cent ran on time.
The £4.5 billion public subsidy paid to the railway industry is now more than three times the subsidy paid to British Rail.
A recent report by the independent think-tank Catalyst calculated that £800 million a year is taken out of the industry as returns to private lenders and investors – a total leakage of more than £6 billion since 1996.
The RMT has also pointed out that passengers on British railways pay the highest fares per mile of any in Europe.
The walk-on standard far from London to Manchester (303 km) is £93.50, compares to £22.70 for a similar distance in France, £30 in Spain, £18.50 in Italy’ £42 in Germany and £23.54 in Belgium.
Bob Crow said: “When GNER agreed to pay a franchise of more than £1 billion for the east coast mainline service, RMT warned that the only way this money could be raised was by raising fares and cutting services.
“Our analysis shows that fares on this line are already three times higher than on journeys of similar length in the nationalised railways in Belgium and France.
“But fares per mile on the Virgin West Coast line are even higher. Rail privatisation has turned UK rail fares into a lottery and it is set to get worse.”

Workers’ Memorial Day

By Mike Fletcher and Caroline Colebrook

THOUSANDS of workers all around Britain and the world last Thursday marched in tribute to fellow workers who have died through injury or sickness as a result of their work – and in protest at the negligence of employers that allows so many unnecessary accidents to happen.
In London around 300 trades unionists gathered at Bankside on the south bank of the Thames to march to the new London County Hall for a rally with Mayor Ken Livingstone.
There were many colourful union banners, from the construction union Ucatt, from the Transport and General Workers’ Union, from public sector union Unison and from the general union GMB.
The march passed many construction sites along the way where workers on the sites were invited to join the marchers for a few moments to pay respects to workers killed on building sites and to call for better safety measures. Some of them did.
The rally at County Hall was addressed by a number of union leaders and activists, including Sertuc regional secretary Mick Connolly, Ucatt regional secretary Jerry Swaine and Keith Norman, the acting general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef.
They spoke of the 72 building workers who have died in Britain in the last year in preventable accidents, 28 of them in London. Most of the accidents were from falls but there had also been many workers crushed, buried, or died when vehicles overturned.
One building inspector told the crowd that it was his duty to step in after fatalities had happened. He said: “I am not supposed to get emotionally involved but when you meet the families it is very hard not to.”
He cited one typical case where a young Ghanaian worker was killed when the vehicle with a telescopic platform (a cherry-picker) he was driving had overturned. The man had been given no training on how to operate the machine. He had not even been told there was a safety belt under the rubbish beside his seat that would have saved his life.
Chief among the demands made was for stronger corporate killing laws. “If you just fine rich bosses for corporate killing it means nothing to them,” said Jerry Swaine. “They figure that in with the running costs and if it’s still cheaper to ignore safety regulations they’ll carry on doing the same. It’s the nature of capitalism.”
They also demanded more resources for the Health and safety Executive so that it can do a proper job and more powers for union safety reps on sites, including protection from victimisation.
They cited many instances of safety reps being put on the redundancy list as soon as they were appointed.
They demanded powers for union safety reps to inspect all sites, including non-union sites and for proper safety training – two or three days every year – for all building workers, not just the bosses.
Too many workers die because they are asked to do potentially dangerous jobs with little or no training.
Ken Livingstone said: “I wholeheartedly back the call for zero tolerance of preventable workplace injuries and deaths.
“As London’s construction and transport projects increase, world-class health and safety standards are vital to maintain a world-class workforce.”
He promised to impose stringent health and safety conditions of all contracts for work for the Greater London Authority.
In Colchester members of the Amicus general union laid a memorial stone in Castle Park to workers who have died as a result of their work.
Among the trade unionists present were the local trades council, the Labour candidate for Colchester and local Labour councillors and members of the New Communist Party.
They discussed the need to fight for a Labour election victory and the local Labour Party welcomed the NCP’s affiliation to the Labour Representation Committee.
They discussed working together on many broad issues, such as the proposed closure of Colchester bus station.
Other events to mark Workers’ Memorial Day took place in Birmingham, Solihull, Bristol, Bradford, Cleethorpes, Coventry, Grimsby, Liverpool, Rochdale and Immingham.
They included vigils, observing silences, marches, wreath laying and speeches by union officers.

Abu Rideh jailed again

Mahmoud Abu Rideh, one of the alleged terror suspects detained for over three years without charge or trial first in Belmarsh prison and then Broadmoor high security hospital, has been returned to jail after being released last month for failure to comply with his control order.
Abu Rideh, a Palestinian and former victim of torture while a prisoner in Israel, has a history of mental illness and depression. He is now under 24-hour watch in the hospital wing of Brixton prison in south London.
He appeared before Bow Street magistrates court a week ago on charges of failing to comply with “any of the obligations” imposed on him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 “without reasonable excuse”.
But his arrest followed a decision that he could have his electronic tag removed while he underwent hospital psychiatric treatment. He was told it would not be re-attached as long as he was still receiving the treatment.
He was charged with breaching his control order when he visited a police station and told officers he did not want to have the tag refitted and would prefer to be returned to custody.
Shami Chakrabati, the director of the civil rights organisation Liberty, accused the Government of “chopping and changing” the terms of Abu Rideh’s regime, adding to the “cruelty and confusion suffered by this man”.
She said: “The Home Office confirmed that for a period of time that it had agreed to take the tag off. The faulty and cruel nature of control orders has been once again exposed.
“We are deeply alarmed at the suggestion that a man driven to the point of repeated self-harm may now be prosecuted for going to the police in a cry for help.”
The magistrates have referred his case to the High Court.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Next Step

Workers get little out of bourgeois elections. Whoever wins the ruling class will still be there living off the backs of working people in Britain and throughout the world.
But we do get the chance to keep the most reactionary of the mainstream parties out of office and to elect the only party that is historically and organisationally linked to the trade union movement – the Labour Party. We also get the chance to raise popular demands that go far beyond the bourgeois agenda or the class-collaborationist policies of Blair and his side-kicks.
The Labour Party has been dominated by its right-wing throughout its history and when in office that right-wing has always sought to serve the dominant wing of the ruling class. Blair has aligned himself with the most venal, reactionary and aggressive section of the bourgeoisie – those that see their interests best served in alliance with US imperialism.
The anti-war movement vowed to make the Iraq war the key issue in this election and they have undeniably succeeded. The Tories, who supported the war, confined themselves to the question of Blair’s credibility. But the Liberal Democrats spent last week parading their anti-war credentials while ignoring that fact that it’s only this war they oppose – and that only on the grounds that they support the position of that part of the ruling class that wants to close ranks with Franco-German imperialism.
George Galloway’s robust campaign has certainly raised the issue in the East End of London but the same cannot be said for the other 25 Respect candidates across the country.
Blair’s masters of spin tell us that the only alternative to Labour is the Tories and in one sense that’s true as British bourgeois democracy revolves around a two-party system. They’re also starting to tell us that the only alternative to Blair is Gordon Brown implying that his succession is a foregone conclusion.
But there is a very real alternative to Blair and Brown and what they call “New Labour” and that’s the Labour Party itself.
Protest votes and maverick MPs cannot change the leadership of the Labour Party. Only the organised working class through its affiliated unions that provide the massive amounts of cash that keep Labour going can do that job. And that will only happen if there’s mass rank-and-file pressure on the leadership for change.
Capitalism can never solve the problems of working people nor is it intended to. It’s a system designed to ensure that the big bourgeoisie and those that serve them live the lives of Roman emperors through exploitation. All the wealth of the world is produced by workers in factories and peasants in the fields. All they get in return, apart from in the remaining socialist countries in Asia and the Caribbean is a tiny fraction of the wealth they produce.
All that “democracy” means to the bourgeoisie is manipulating the largest number of votes by the smallest number of people. Marking a cross in a ballot box every four of five years is a meaningless ritual unless it’s matched by a rising level of militancy and struggle. The anti-war campaign reached out to millions through mass actions on the streets in London and up and down the country. The demands for higher wages, better pensions, decent and affordable housing and a free health service that Britain can so easily afford will only be met through struggle against the employers and the bourgeois state that exists to serve the interests of the exploiters.
What we want is real democracy – people’s democracy; democracy for the masses that will pave the way for socialism and the end of poverty, classes and exploitation. The struggle began in the 19th century.
The election is over but the battle goes on!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The NCP’s electoral policy

The NCP’s electoral policy calls on supporters to vote Labour in all elections, while boycotting European elections. This is not because we support the venal right-wing policies of New Labour, Blair and Brown.

This is not because we think a Labour government can solve the problems of working people - that is not possible in a capitalist 'democracy'. It is simply the best possible outcome in the current circumstances.

In our view a Labour government, with the as yet unbroken links the Labour Party, trade unions and the Labour movement, offers the best option for the working class in the era of bourgeois parliamentary democracy.

Alternative electoral policies to achieve a leftist or socialist government are nothing more than a mirage. The only realistic alternative governments -involving Tories or Liberal Democrats - would be worse than a Labour government.

We believe there have been gains since 1997 which would not have happened under the Tories: the peace process in Ireland, improved terms and conditions for workers, reduced child poverty, the restoration of the Greater London Authority, and the GLA’s successes under Ken Livingstone.

But solving the problems of working people, and ending Britain’s imperialist role in the world, can only come about through a socialist revolution and putting the working class in power.

New Labour's Transport Disaster

In 1997, improving the dire state of transport in Britain was a major item in Labour’s manifesto. Since then we have seen one broken promise after another, the only plus points being a 30 per cent reduction in congestion and a huge improvement in bus services in central London – both successes for ‘Old Labour’ mayor Ken Livingstone.

‘New Labour’s’ transport policies, on the other hand, are a very sad tale:

 the government backtracked on its 1997 pledge to re-nationalise the railways; until recently Britain was the only country in the world to split control of railway companies from management of the tracks

 rail privatisation was a disaster in terms of cost, safety and services, yet New Labour has continued to pour hundreds of millions in public money into the private rail companies’ coffers - with no improvement in services and increasing ticket prices.

 even though privatisation was such a costly failure, Blair and Brown forced through privatisation of the London underground – one of many policies not included in election manifestoes – although the overwhelming majority of Londoners opposed it.

 Londoners (and millions of visitors and tourists) are now paying the highest underground fares in Europe or America - and getting a very bad deal in return

 Private contractors upgrading the tube’s infrastructure are earning guaranteed profits of £2m every week, while London Underground’s losses have rocketed from £50m in 1998 to £756m last year.

The real reason why after eight years New Labour has failed to deliver an integrated transport plan is that the public interest has taken second place to the oil, road-building, haulage and car companies.

So while car use has steadily increased, over the past 25 years of freight transport has shifted from environment-friendly rail and water transport onto the roads. The people of London are left with an inefficient and dirty system which creates huge health problems, and destroys the city’s quality of life.

Transport for London?

After one year of the unpopular and controversial public private partnership (PPP) on the underground the contractors in charge of upgrading the network have been shamed by London Underground chief Tim O’Toole for poor performance - while raking in profits of two million pounds a week.

According to O’Toole the conglomerates are using only 30 per cent of available time for engineering work, not spending enough on plant and equipment, and cutting costs to boost profits. “The standard practice,” he says, “is to cut costs. I’m saying this is not the way to do things now.”

Their contracts were forced through despite bitter opposition from Ken Livingstone, Bob Kiley (head of Transport for London (TfL)), and transport experts. They suggested the funding the tube upgrade through a public bond issue on the New York subway model.

Instead, two conglomerates of multinational companies known as ‘infracos’ were awarded plum contracts contracts worth £15.7 billion over 30 years to modernise tracks, stations and tunnels – a virtually risk-free deal guaranteeing decades profits at public expense. The contracts were so complex that lawyers and consultants fees came to £455 million.

According to Bob Kiley, “the Government's PPP is not the right way to manage the maintenance and renewal of the Tube. As they stand, the PPP contracts do not address the improvements to the Underground that TfL and the public demand. No matter how effectively we work we face severe limitations on what we can achieve given our limited resources.

“We need to reverse the effects of decades of neglect on London's transport, as well as respond to the projected employment and population increase over the next decade - and this simply requires higher levels of investment than the funds we currently receive through fare revenues and government grant.

“So far, however, the Government has been unable to give us any assurances of further assistance.”

In other words, the people in charge of transport on behalf of Londoners are at the mercy of a motley collection of huge corporations to New Labour prefers to throw billions in public investments.

It is now cheaper for the contractors to keep underground lines shut when work overruns than to pay penalties for imposing speed limits – a fact millions of Londoners are well aware of on Monday mornings!

There are also serious concerns for passenger safety. Maintenance on both surface rail and the underground is now contracted and repeatedly sub-contracted out to dozens of small fly-by-night companies with abysmal safety standards. TV documentaries have shown appalling examples of shoddy work by these ‘sub-sub-sub-contractors’.

The reality is that the contractors ran rings around the government when the contracts were negotiated. Transport expert and member of the TfL board Stephen Glaister said the government expected “a partnership in which we were all going to be best friends. We said ‘You’ve got to be joking.’ It was completely naïve.”

While Blair and Brown had already committed themselves to PPP come what may, the conglomerates brought in crack negotiating teams who walked away with ‘silly’ contracts.

Behind this lies New Labour’s devotion to PPP contracts - the truth behind Blair’s ‘Third Way’ – which have plagued public transport, local government, education and the NHS. Con-men like Blair and Brown are aiding and abetting international capital in the greatest rip-off of all time, the mass privatisation of every area of public life.

London's Congestion Charge

The Congestion Charge has succeeded in reducing traffic in central London by 18 per cent during charging hours. Overall congestion and car traffic are down by 30 per cent. Public transport has coped with ease, and one of the GLA’s great successes has been the improvement in bus services.

Under Ken Livingstone the GLA has invested large amounts of money in 560 extra bus services in the morning peak period. This and the Congestion Charge mean that average bus speeds have increased by 7 per cent; there are almost 30,000 extra bus passengers a day.

The Congestion Charge is a regressive tax falling equally in all regardless of income. But, on balance, people on low incomes have benefited. Few of them own cars, and even fewer used them to drive to central London. They do overwhelmingly use public transport, particularly buses, and the low-paid have benefitted from improved bus services.

The Congestion Charge and better buses are not an overall solution to London’s problems. The capital – like the rest of Britain – is still crying out for an integrated transport plan.

Such a plan would combine large-scale cheap car parking, buses, trains, trams, underground, and proper cycling facilities into an efficient and joined-up system, funded through public subsidies and contributions from businesses in London.