Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy New Year!
Best wishes for 2007 from all at the London District of the New Communist Party of Britain

Dagenham workers threaten strike

COUNCIL workers employed by Barking and Dagenham council who are members of the GMB and TGWU general unions last week voted overwhelmingly in a consultative ballot for strike action against the council’s proposals to deal with the Single Status and equal pay claims.
The two unions will now begin a process for a formal, official ballot to prepare for full strike action in the New Year.
GMB senior organiser Justin Bowden said: “Wow, I have run many ballots but never had such an overwhelming result as this one. The message is clear to the council and it must take notice of it.
“If not, then 2007 will begin with the very real possibility of strike action that would close schools and all services including dust and street cleansing, parks, libraries and offices

Bringing Palestine to Lewisham

MEMBERS of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Lewisham Stop the War Coalition were out in Lewisham High Street last Saturday 16th December, bringing home to the Christmas shoppers the reality of life for Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
With some supporters in traditional Palestinian dress and others in costume as Israeli soldiers, they enacted the humiliating procedures and searches that Palestinian people have to go through every day in their own country just to travel from one part to another.
Painted cardboard stood in for the notorious Israeli “apartheid wall” dividing the West Bank and those wishing to pass had to produce documents carrying information on their identity, educational and work record and their alleged political views and activities.
But when “Condoleezza Rice” (a campaigner in a mask) arrived with a bag containing billions of dollars, the guards at the wall welcomed her and allowed her through with no security checks.
Shoppers were asked how they would feel if they had to show such documents to soldiers of a foreign occupying force just to be allowed to go about their daily business.
Leaflets were distributed and petition signatures collected. Later the campaigners took part in a peace vigil, calling for British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan.
There was a short candle-lit walk, speeches and singing by the Strawberry Thieves.

Friday, December 15, 2006

NCP charts its course!


by Caroline Colebrook

THE FIFTEENTH Congress of the New Communist Party of Britain took place at the Marx Memorial Library in London on the weekend of 2nd and 3rd of December this year. It was chaired by Alex Kempshall and attended by party delegates, fraternal delegates from other parties in Britain and around the world and by friends, supporters and observers.
It was an enjoyable experience for all who took part and the benefit of the changes to the Party constitution and rules made in the previous congress in 2003 were evident. The Party’s financial situation has improved and the extra year between congresses allowed the party to spend more time preparing this one.
This was reflected in the main resolution, prepared by the Central Committee, and other resolutions submitted by Party cells that went far deeper into various political and economic issues than ever before. The period of pre-congress discussion had been longer. More topics were covered in greater depth, including energy policy and nuclear power, education, housing, landownership, and advancing fascism in the shape of a more oppressive and controlling state machinery.
There were many amendments and resolutions from Party cells and districts on matters ranging from the environment to mental health and support for the recent nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
We were able to dig deeper into the contradictions and contending interests within the global ruling class as well as the main contradiction between capital and labour. Policy agreed at one Congress stands unless it is withdrawn or contradicted at a later congress. So every time we prepare a main resolution some comrades suggest we do not need to go deeply into what has already been agreed and is not controversial – and thus produce a shorter document. But it never works out like that.
If any topic is left out, someone will raise it. This means that at any congress every aspect of our policy is debated again and fine tuned in the light of recent events. Thus the policy is deepened, along with our understanding of the way the world works and what we need to do to achieve peace and socialism.
Congress is also an opportunity for comrades from all over the country to meet, to put faces to names and to meet and discuss with comrades from other communist parties in struggle all around the world. And the overwhelming message the fraternal comrades brought us this year was very positive. The most reactionary and dangerous elements within global imperialism – the American neo-cons – are being defeated in their attempts to impose world hegemony after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Their armies are being defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Latin America is turning leftwards, led by Cuba and Venezuela and Washington can do nothing because its armies are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. The economic hegemony of the US is broken by China’s rising economic strength, by Venezuela’s use of its oil for progressive purposes and by dissent from the European Union and Russia. Communist Parties around the world are advancing again and revisionist weaknesses and delusions are disappearing. The future is not certain but it is looking a lot better than it did three years ago.
Congress opened with a speech from NCP President Eric Trevett, in which he spoke of the coming 30th anniversary of the party’s foundation in July 1977, and the tremendous changes that have taken place in Britain and the world since then. He also spoke of the need to build the party and recruit new members. This is not easy in the current political climate when so many people are disillusioned and alienated from the political process and most political parties are losing members.
Furthermore, membership of the NCP calls for a higher level of commitment and sacrifice than most people who are new to the struggle are ready to give.
“Our party has made significant progress but has only modest influence in the Labour movement at present,” said Eric. “Among its successes are the establishment of its own premises, its own printing house and a weekly communist newspaper, the New Worker.
“Our members have been in action on many national and local demonstrations but we have a problem. We are not big enough to play a decisive part in the struggles of the working class.
“For this our recruiting efforts have not been sufficient to offset the natural wastage that arises from the deaths and incapacity of some of our members.
“This is a problem that has to be addressed. The deteriorating living standards of the people and the growing alienation arising from the privatisation process provide the basis for more success to recruit members into our party.
“A start has been made towards this in the foundation of the New Worker Supporters’ Groups, which involve non-party people at present who are becoming conversant with Marxist Leninist ideas and inspired by the ideas of socialism and communism.
“They are also becoming conversant with our strategy for uniting the working class around revolutionary concepts.
“We will be discussing these ideas in the course of this congress and I won’t anticipate them by discussing them in this brief address. But central to our work from this congress must be a conscious recruiting drive. It can’t just be left to exhortation but must be carried through in an organised way and with √©lan and political conviction.
“That is in some ways the main task facing the party at the present time.”
This was followed by a speech from our general secretary, Andy Brooks. He spoke of the primary contradiction in the world today between the Unites States and the rest of the world it seeks to dominate.
“The Bush administration represents the most reactionary and aggressive sections of the American ruling class bent on world domination. Supported by the most venal and craven sections of the British ruling class they have invaded and occupied part of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq and their guns threaten Democratic Korea, Cuba, Syria, Iran, Venezuela and anyone else who dares to stand in their way,” he said.
Andy went on to speak of the resistance to oppression: “The Iraqi people have defied the might of imperialism for over a decade and the heroic Iraqi resistance has moved from defence to attack effectively destroying Anglo-American imperialism’s dream of colonising Iraq and establishing an imperialist ‘Greater Middle East’. The Palestinians continue to defy the Zionist state and its imperialist masters. Throughout Latin America democratic forces have come to power with mass support. The Nepalese people have ended the autocracy of a hated monarch and the Lebanese resistance inflicted a heavy political and military defeat on the Israelis last summer.”
Andy talked of the record of the NCP in support of those resisting imperialist aggression: “Our party supported the Iraqi government when it intervened in Kuwait in 1990 and opposed the imperialist attack in 1991 that had been rubber-stamped at the UN Security Council. We supported the Iraqi government and people when they suffered under a decade of blockade and imperialist attack. We were in the minority, a tiny minority, arguing this case in the forums of the world communist movement at that time.
“We supported the Iraqi national resistance from the start when this opinion was also in the minority in the world communist movement. Now the overwhelming mass of communist and workers parties have closed ranks behind the resistance and we can take some comfort from the fact that the NCP has played a part in winning the argument for the correct line.”
Andy also spoke of the struggle for socialism in Britain: “We believe that the working class can never come to power through bourgeois elections but that doesn’t mean that we turn our back on working class demands for social justice and state welfare. We believe that social democracy can never lead to people’s democracy but that doesn’t mean that we turn our back on social democratic movements that represent millions upon millions of working people in Britain in the unions and in the Labour Party.
“We believe that the class collaborationist ideas of social democracy must be defeated within the working class but not by imitating it in the countless variations of the British Road to Socialism upheld by the revisionist and Trotskyist movements in Britain today. The fact that these platforms do not work; that they are rejected time and time again by the same working class these programmes claim to advance never deters these pseudo-revolutionaries who believe they can change the consciousness of the masses through rhetoric and wild promises.
“Now we can all play that game and call upon imaginary legions beyond the British working class to advance along the revolutionary road. We can all invent a class that is seething with anger and mobilised for revolutionary change that is just waiting for the correct party with the correct formula to lead them to victory. Unfortunately as communists we have to work with the working class that exists and not the phantom of romantic leftism.
“Running left candidates without mass support against Labour divides the movement and the class and ignores the obvious fact that the only realistic alternate governments are those of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats that would be much worse than any Labour government.”
He concluded: “Socialism is essential to eliminate exploitation, unemployment, poverty, economic crisis and war. Socialism is the only solution to climate change, pollution and global warming. Let us work together to build the movement that will ensure that this century becomes the era of socialism.”
Delegates then warmly welcomed Comrade Jong In Song from the DPRK embassy in London who conveyed the greetings of Workers Party of Korea to the Congress and wished it well.
The financial crisis gripping the NHS sparked many contributions to debate in the Congress. Peter Hendy from the North West District of the NCP, who is a psychiatric nurse, told the Congress: “The NHS is suffering a financial crisis that can only get worse, despite record levels of expenditure.
“It is estimated that the NHS is £900 million in debt with no sign of the crisis abating. Health trust deficits are causing cuts in patient care and staff jobs. More beds, jobs and even whole hospitals face the axe to meet cash shortfalls.
“To cut costs and slash budgets has meant sacking workers, freezing pay and slashing services to the bone. Nurses and other health workers are being offered a pathetic 1.5 per cent pay increase – which at half the rate of inflation is effectively a pay cut.
“Twenty thousand workers are set to lose their jobs, 30 community hospitals are threatened with closure and 50 per cent of emergency departments could be axed.”
He also spoke on the crisis in mental health care: “High rates of suicide and of psychosis in prisons – estimated to be ten times higher than in the general population, demonstrate a complete failure to provide and develop appropriate services to meet prisoners’ mental health care needs.
“An unprecedented growth in the prison population demonstrates that prisons have now become the new psychiatric hospitals, warehousing society’s most vulnerable and stigmatised sections of the population.”
He went on to explain the reasons behind the crisis: the internal NHS market, in which “patients become no more than units of exchange in which managers conduct purchasing agreements”, the private finance initiative and the introduction of foundation status hospitals.
“Speak to anyone in the health service and they will describe a collective mood of demoralisation created by overwork and underpay,” Peter said. And he quoted a leftwing colleague: “When Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street, she shed a tear. I don’t want Tony Blair to shed a tear when he leaves Downing Street. I want him to be led away in handcuffs!”
Ann Rogers from the Southall NCP spoke against the Government’s plans to replace Trident with a new submarine-based nuclear weapons programme. “This is not a simple replacement,” she said, “this is an upgrade costing up to £75 billion.” Ann pointed out that this was in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and also a threat to the environment. “War and weapons damage the environment worse than anything else,” she said.
Alex Kempshall spoke of the NCP delegation to People’s China and that country’s rapid economic growth and drive to eliminate poverty.
Stefan Eggerdinger, representing the Workers’ League for the Restoration of the German Communist Party (AWfKPD) told the Congress about his party’s efforts to expose and combat German and European Union imperialism.
Severino Menendez from the Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain (PCPE) also spoke of European Union imperialism, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation. He pointed out that when Israel attacked and invaded Lebanon Bush and Blair delayed any response from the international community. Only when the Lebanese resistance was winning, were international peace-keeping forces sent, and then to the invaded country, not the aggressor.
He also spoke about the recent conference of communist and workers’ parties in Lisbon – continuing the annual international conferences initiated by the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and held in Athens in previous years.
Papagiotis Rentzelas of the KKE told the Congress that the US and EU were the leading imperialist aggressors in the world. He spoke of the EU assault on the hard-won social gains of European workers and the need to broaden the fronts of struggle.
Comrade Christodoulos Stylianou from the Progressive Party of Working People of Cyprus (Akel) paid tribute to the work of the KKE in initiating the international conference and spoke of Akel’s 80th anniversary earlier this year. He called for a just settlement to reunite his divided island and restore its full sovereignty.
Two comrades from the Marxist-Leninist Party of Turkey and Northern Kurdistan (MLTKP) spoke of their struggles to operate in conditions of illegality after raids and arrests on their party and other left parties in Turkey earlier this year.
They and many of their comrades are now in exile and they spoke of the desire to make links with communist parties in those countries where they find themselves.
In response to their appeal, the NCP Congress drafted an emergency motion of support, condemning the suppression of the left Turkish parties and calling for the release of all political prisoners.
Hanne Rosenvald from the newly-united Communist Party of Denmark spoke of the process of unification which had brought the party into existence a few months ago. She also spoke of international solidarity against the war in Iraq, the fight against racism and against attacks of fundamental rights. And she concluded with an account of her party’s struggle for democracy and sovereignty against the EU.
Michael Chant from the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) spoke about the ruling class offensive against civil liberties and the targeting of Islam and revolutionary communism.
Explo Nani Kofi of the African Liberation Solidarity Committee spoke on the struggle in Africa for national liberation and how winning this was not the same thing as winning socialism. After national liberation the struggle continues to free the working class from bourgeois capitalist exploitation.
Neil Harris of Southall NCP spoke on mental health and civil liberties and proposals to imprison people on “behaviour orders”, in spite of having committed no crimes.
Stella Moutafis spoke, paying tribute to the work and dedication of NHS mental health staff in the face of huge cuts and shortages of resources.
Daphne Liddle spoke on the Identity Card Act and the huge database that would go with it, carrying detailed personal information on all of us. She pointed out that this sort of information would be invaluable to bosses, bank managers and to people who want to sell us stuff, so they could try to micro-manage our working, borrowing and spending to extract the maximum amount of profit from each of us.
Richard Bos of West Surrey NCP spoke on the opportunities presented by new technology for communists around the world to communicate and act in solidarity together.
There were many more contributions, on health, especially mental health care, the environment, the struggle for freedom and reunification in Ireland, on political work in factories and many other topics.
After two days of debate the amended main resolution and the other proposed amendments were all agreed. After the voting, comrades sang the Internationale, said their goodbyes and departed to their homes to prepare to implement the policies they had just agreed. As the Irish folk song October Winds says: “A little rest and then the world is full of work to do”.

Tis the season to be jolly...

…or not if you happen to be in that tiny band of bible-punchers and their Tory friends who are raging at the apparent disrespect shown to the Prince of Peace at the time of his supposed birth. A Tory columnist in the Daily Telegraph threatens to trash any greetings card that omits the word “Christmas” while the Daily Mail and the Sun have been banging on about employers who have banned Christmas decorations and councils, invariably Labour or Liberal Democrat, that have sought to rename the winter holiday “luminos” or “winterval” for fear of offending other religious minorities.
The focus for these latter-day religious reformers is the “Campaign Against Political Correctness” which claims to be defending traditional British values, whatever that means, against its wholesale assault by hordes of Muslims, liberals, atheists and other enemies under the bed during the season of good will.
Now that all the media pundits are joining in the fun it appears that most of these scare-stories are grossly exaggerated or simply urban myths. But the real point is that the “traditional” British Christmas has very little to do with Christianity and the fact is, it never had.
Exchanging gifts and cards, dancing round the mistletoe, gorging oneself on turkey and drinking oneself silly has nothing to do with Jesus’ teachings – a fact our Puritan forebears knew when they sought to ban all merry-making on Christmas Day.Nobody knows when Jesus of Nazareth was born, least of all the early Christians who never celebrated their founder’s birth, preferring to uphold the day of his crucifixion, which has never been in doubt. The early Christian theologian, Origen, condemned “Christmas” as an idea worthy of a Pharaoh, contending that only sinners, not saints, celebrated their birthdays – a principle upheld by some Christian sects even today.
Christmas is a pagan festival to mark the winter solstice that was known as Saturnalia in Roman times or Yule-tide by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, while 25th December was sacred to Mithras, the Persian deity adored by many in the Roman legions. It may have been marked by solemn rituals but it was also accompanied by orgies of feasting and indulgence, when slaves became masters for the day and all rules were overturned.
The early Christian Fathers, who realised there was no point in trying to compete with the Invincible Sun God on his own day, simply appropriated it for their own Master and the celebrations continued under the blessings of the Church.
And why not? Most workers in Britain now get paid leave for one or two weeks over the Christmas and New Year breaks. For one brief moment in the year they can put their feet up, enjoy themselves and live the way the rich live every day of their parasitical existence. Unfortunately we pay for it when the decorations come down and the relentless pile of bills mounts up in January, while the rich carry on as if nothing has happened.
These “re-born” Tory fundamentalists would be laughable if they weren’t so hypocritical. Public holidays and statutory leave entitlements are not gifts from benevolent bosses. They were wrung from the necks of grudging employers over the years by the unions.
Nor are these Tory pundits well-suited for the role of religious reformers. If they were they should campaign for the return of the Sunday laws that the Tories abolished in the 1990s, which would not only restore the “Lord’s Day” but guarantee workers a fixed day of rest and ensure that those who have to work on Sunday get double-time-plus for doing it. Now that really would be something to celebrate.

Five million pound fine for detention centre

THE COMPANY running Harmondsworth detention centre, near Heathrow Airport, where hundreds of asylum seekers rioted in protest at conditions that had been condemned by the chief prisons inspector, has been fined £5 million for a series of performance failures.
The Government imposed this fine – which the private contractors will have to repay to the Treasury – after a damning report by Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons.
She found there a regime of intimidation that left 60 per cent of inmates saying they felt unsafe there. She described the “poorest” conditions she had ever found in a detention centre.
Relations between inmates and staff were poor and the staff were unable to recognise torture victims.
The day after the report was published there was a riot at the centre, which is run by the American security services giant Kalyx.

Thugs attack Iceland picket

STRIKING drivers and warehouse workers at the Iceland distribution depot in the London Borough of Enfield have told of brutal attempts last Thursday to break the strike by contractor DHL Exel.
The Transport and General Workers’ Union said that gangs of security guards, described as “thugs, no more, no less” by one picket, had been brought in.
“They are threatening, provoking and intimidating our people,” said TGWU senior industrial organiser Peter Kavanagh. “We are trying to deal with the police over a serious incident of assault. It has been a nasty start to what is a lawful strike and a peaceful protest. There’s no Christmas cheer here.”
Kavanagh said that DHL Exel must have spent a small fortune to bring in the private security guards and agency labour to get supplies out earlier than usual in an attempt to break the strike. But he said the goods being delivered may not be as fresh as they should be.
“DHL sent the refrigerated trucks out three hours earlier than normal but the Iceland stores weren’t opened three hours early,” he added.
“That means the refrigeration units would have had to stand idle waiting for the stores to open before they could be unloaded.
“You have to wonder what happened to those foodstuffs during the wait when they couldn’t be kept in proper refrigerated conditions. Iceland customers should be asking questions as we would.”
The TGWU said the amounts of money being spent trying to break the strike and undermine the DHL Excel workforce would have been better spent sorting out the pay dispute.
The one-day strike was called in protest at an imposed 2.4 per cent pay increase by DHL Exel and the failure of the contractor to pass on any of the productivity and efficiency gains made by the 115 drivers and 250 warehouse staff.
The Enfield site delivers to about 180 Iceland stores in London and across the south-east and East Anglia, including stores in Norwich, Norfolk, Ipswich, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and Kent.
Further strike action is planned for Friday 15th December followed by Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd December.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The 15th Congress of the NCP

DELEGATES of the New Communist Party cells and districts, friends, supporters and fraternal delegates from other parties assembled last weekend in the historic Marx House at Clerkenwell Green in central London for the party’s 15th National Congress.
The Congress was opened by NCP president Eric Trevett, who recalled the tremendous things that have happened nationally and internationally since the NCP was founded in July 1977.
He spoke of the marginalisation and even liquidation of some communist parties, victims of the revisionist virus of “Euro-communism”, which paved the way for counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and other European socialist countries.
In Britain in the 1980s the defeat of the heroic miners’ strike – betrayed by the leaderships of the Labour Party and TUC who prevented effective solidarity support – which paved the way for first an onslaught on trade union rights and then on the wages and conditions of the working class.
Those were dark days but now: “Resistance to reactionary policies is growing and among the positive developments we see is China emerging as a world power in politics and in the economic field,” Eric told the Congress.
“In Latin America we see other countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua joining Cuba in opposing US imperialism.
“In the Middle East the patriotic forces of Lebanon fought US-backed Israel to a standstill and Israel has been exposed to an unprecedented extent as an aggressor state and a puppet of US imperialism.
“Here at home resistance is also growing as is evidenced by the massive demonstrations against the war on Iraq and the build up of local agitation in defence of the health service,” he added.
He finished with a call for positive action to build the New Communist Party.
Dozens of delegates made contributions, as amendments to the party’s main resolution and several other resolutions were debated. They brought to the debate personal experience of activity in a wide range of struggles.
The illegal invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were top concerns, along with recognition that the resistance in those countries is succeeding in fighting the imperialist invaders to a standstill, who are now desperately casting about for a feasible “exit strategy”.
Concern over the future of the NHS was among the topics which attracted many speakers. In particular the shameful inadequacy of mental health services produced many passionate contributions from comrades who either worked in the field, were patients or close relatives of patients.
Congress agreed that the stresses of living under advanced and declining capitalism have produced an epidemic of stress and depression, while the traditional community structures of the working class that supported the morale of workers in struggle have been undermined by consumerism, individualism and alienation.
Other big concerns included opposition to the renewal of Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system and the current attacks on civil liberties.
Fraternal delegates from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Greece, Spain, Denmark, Cyprus, Turkey, Germany, the African Liberation Support Committee and the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) spoke to the Congress.
All these comrades emphasised the recent changes in the world balance of power, as the United States has lost some of its power. This follows the strength of the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan and the huge shift towards left-wing governments in Latin America, especially Venezuela, which the US is powerless to stop.
Many mentioned the recent conference of communist and workers’ parties in Lisbon, where the mood among communists now is upbeat and positive. Parties are growing in strength as they successfully defeat the poison of revisionism and class collaboration.
The Turkish comrades told a harrowing tale of violent oppression of their party – along with other parties, especially those who stand up for Kurdish civil rights and liberties. They have suffered raids and arrests and leading members are being held in jail. Their party is forced to work in conditions of illegality. The Congress passed an emergency solidarity motion in support of their struggle and calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Turkey.
And the nuclear test by the DPRK was recognised by Congress as a positive step towards the peaceful stabilisation of that region – a real deterrent to US imperialist interference there.
NCP general secretary Andy Brooks wound up the Congress by congratulating delegates for their hard work in producing a document that will chart the Party’s progress for the next three years. He praised the positive contribution the RCPB (ML) had made towards advancing communist unity through co-operation and dialogue with the NCP over the years.
The one certainty in life, Andy said quoting Marx, was that the only alternative to socialism was barbarism – the barbarism we saw in Nazi Germany and what we see today in Iraq; the barbarism we see in the starvation and poverty of much of the Third World and the exploitation and oppression of working people throughout the world. But this was a Congress of hope and conviction in the supremacy of the communist ideal. The 21st century, he concluded, will certainly be the century of socialism.
A collection raised over £450 and the last act of Congress, in accordance with NCP tradition, was the mass singing of the Internationale.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Unions condemn pensions talk snub

by Caroline Colebrook

OVER 1,000 local government workers last Wednesday, 22nd November, lobbied their MPs in Westminster and attended a rally at Central Hall Westminster organised by several public sector trade unions to press home their claim for a decent deal for the 1.5 million members of the local government pensions scheme. They included dinner ladies, teaching assistants, social workers, refuse collectors, home helps, police support staff and many other workers and the event was timed to coincide with a House of Commons debate on their pensions. But two days later the unions were accusing Local Government Minister Phil Woolas of a “hostile intervention” that effectively “spiked” talks between the Government and unions, at which progress was being made to settle the long-running pensions dispute.

Woolas had written to unions and the employers asking them to negotiate directly. But minutes before the employers were due to meet to consider fresh proposals from the unions, he made a statement in the Commons announcing a new pension scheme for England and Wales.

Neither the employers nor the unions knew anything whatsoever about the statement.

The employers and trade unions had written to Woolas explaining that significant progress was being made in the talks. Earlier in the week Keith Sonnet, deputy general secretary of the giant public sector union Unison, asked Woolas not to make any statement until after the talks had been concluded, but received no reply.

Sonnet said: “The Local Government Minister, Phil Woolas, has spiked these crucial talks in a totally unnecessary and hostile intervention. “We were making significant progress, with the employers just about to consider fresh proposals aimed at solving the long dispute.”

Peter Allenson, national organiser for the Transport and General Workers’ Union, said that the actions of Woolas in undermining the negotiations “simply beggared belief” and made him appear like “Calamity Phil”. “The TGWU was looking forward to a constructive set of talks with the employers based on our successful lobby this week. We knew what we wanted to achieve and we felt the omens were good for a decent set of negotiations,” he said. “But more importantly today will be seen as a slap in the face by a Labour minister for thousands of low-paid workers we are fighting for. It does Mr Woolas’ credibility no good at all.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is an absolutely irresponsible act. Neither the employers nor the unions knew anything about the Minister’s proposed actions. “He went to ground and ignored our approaches. Is this the way to engender partnership working or to promote good industrial relations?”

Unison is now calling on Woolas to allow the talks to continue in an attempt to reach an agreement, unfettered by the terms of the parliamentary statement.

Unless this happens, Unison says it will have no alternative but to move towards a strike ballot of nearly one million members in the local government pension scheme.

Last March more than one million workers did take strike action on this issue. Further strike action was called off to allow these talks to take place.

London Detention Centre slammed

ANNE OWERS, the Government’s chief inspector of jails last week delivered a damning report on the state of Britain’s largest immigrant detention centre at Harmondsworth, near Heathrow.
This is where 500 men, asylum seekers who have failed to convince the Home Office of their case and illegal immigrants are held pending forcible deportation to their country of origin.
Owers said the privately-run detention centre has fallen into “a culture wholly at odds with its stated purpose” since a riot happened there two years ago after a Kosovan was found hanging in his cell. She described her report as the worst she has ever issued. She discovered high levels of force used in the centre, with 60 per cent of inmates reporting that staff use bullying tactics and they do not feel safe. She said the regime was more appropriate to a high-security prison than an immigration detention centre.
Around 2,000 foreign nationals pass through Harmondsworth every month. Forty-four per cent complain of ill-treatment and intimidation by staff. The place is run by United Kingdom Detention Services.
Former inmates say the staff are “aggressive”, “intimidating” and “unhelpful”, especially to detainees who do not speak English. Some say they have been treated “like animals”.
Owers found that many complaints were not investigated. Basic items like tins, jars, nail clippers and leads were confiscated from inmates, many of whom ended up in solitary confinement as a punishment for bad behaviour. Restrictions were placed on inmates’ movements, including the ability to attend religious ceremonies.
Measures to combat suicide and self harm were “weak” and an action plan drawn up to tackle the problem was described as “purely a bureaucratic exercise which had no impact on the centre’s practices”.
Owers described an over-emphasis on physical security. She said: “Harmondsworth is not an easy place to run and the serious disturbance it had experienced had clearly affected the confidence of managers and staff. “However it had been allowed to slip into a culture and approach which was wholly at odds with its stated purpose, and inimical to the proper care and treatment of detainees.” She put some of the blame on the Home Office for not resolving problems at the centre.
The root of the problems lies in Britain’s harsh asylum laws, which do not give proper opportunities to desperate people to prove their cases. This ends up with terrified people being forced back to their home countries. Some are prepared to commit suicide rather than go back.
Any country must have an immigration and asylum policy but it must be fair and humane. It is no good blaming the low-ranking front-line staff for implementing inhuman policies that are decided at much higher levels.

A finger in every pie?

THE GMB general union has accused the food company Katsouris, which supplied Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, of having a poor safety record and putting it mainly migrant workers at risk of injury.
The union says the company, part of the Geest group, suffers on average two or three accidents a day, though not all of them have to be reported by law.
In one incident last June, Dimple Muit, a 27-year-old immigrant worker at the Wembley factory in north London, lost the top of her finger as she cleaned out machinery. She said she had reported the faulty machine four or five times to her supervisor. She said the supervisor called for an engineer but managed to get the machine working again without one.
The next time the machines blocked, Muit put her hand in to clear it out and the machine roared into life, cutting into her hand.
Two weeks later Niten Chokshi was loading large bins full of chick peas into a lifting machine at the same factory. “I pushed the button and the whole thing fell on me,” he said through an interpreter. The tops of two fingers were sliced off and his hand was crushed.
The GMB is trying to win recognition at the company and has drawn attention a catalogue of incidents over the last three years.
The Health and Safety Executive has served seven improvement notices on Katsouris in the last four years. The GMB says that pressure from supermarkets forces suppliers to run production lines at speeds that can cause injuries.