Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lewisham police harass campaigners

by New Worker correspondent

THE NORTHERN end of Lewisham High Street in south London is a regular Saturday morning haunt for a variety of left-wing paper sellers and campaigners: Stop the War, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Socialist Workers’ Party, the New Communist Party and others. It is a scene of regular debate and discussion with the passing public and among the different paper sellers but usually uneventful.
Last Saturday the biggest problem seemed to be the icy wind until a police car arrived with flashing lights, from the police station immediately across the road.
Two policewomen jumped out and began video filming all the political activists but focussing first on the PSC campaigners. They were challenged immediately and replied that they had no problem with what the activists were doing but they had been ordered to film “for intelligence purposes”.
The police described the presence of the activists as “a demonstration” and did not recognise that several different organisations were there – they asked to speak to “the organiser” – and that the activity was limited to selling papers, giving out leaflets and collecting petition signatures – even though much the same thing has happened every Saturday for more than 20 years.
The police learned nothing they could not have learned simply by looking out of their windows or by walking across the road and talking to the campaigners. Clearly the police agenda was intimidation. But their dramatic action had an opposite effect and provoked a storm of protest and instant mobile phone complaints to local councillors and MPs. But it did give the campaigners an opportunity to point out to the shoppers of Lewisham how this country is descending rapidly into a police state.
Meanwhile the Home Office is planning a major upgrade of the CCTV network that will advance the “surveillance society”. New laws will require camera operators to ensure that their equipment produces images good enough for police investigations.
Britain has by far the largest number of surveillance cameras – around five million – in public and private hands or one for every 12 people. The Government claims it is necessary to increase them in order to fight terrorism.
Police are also to gain new powers to seize trespassers at 16 sites around Britain. They range from royal palaces to the official residences of politicians.
Currently police are not allowed to arrest trespassers as long as they agree to be escorted from the site.
But police are to be given more powers at “protected sites”. Up to now such places have been military bases and nuclear power stations. If someone trespasses on them, they run the risk of six months in prison or a £5,000 fine, under the provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, amended by the Terrorism Act 2006.

No Olympic joy for poor Londoners

THE LONDON Assembly last week warned that the promised jobs boom from the 2012 Olympics, to be held in London’s East End, may not materialise.
Thousands of new jobs and training opportunities have been promised but they may not go to local people.
A report from the Assembly’s economic, development, culture, sport and tourism committee has raised questions about how many jobs will go to people living in the five London boroughs that will host the games, where around a quarter of the 720,000 people of working age have no qualifications and over 60 per cent are unemployed.
Dee Doocey, who chairs the committee, said: “We need to get this right from the very start, or we risk losing the truly life-changing potential of the games for people. This would be an unforgivable betrayal of people in the area of London that has been characterised by deprivation for generations.
“The last thing we need is a new Docklands where many of the newly-created jobs did not benefit local people.”

Thursday, March 22, 2007

In memory of Marx

KARL MARX died in his study in London at half-past two on the afternoon of Wednesday 14th March 1883. To commemorate his passing the Marx Memorial Library has for many decades held an annual graveside oration at his burial place in Highgate Cemetery in North London at the exact moment of his death.
NCP leader Andy Brooks represented the New Communist Party together with Library committee members and delegations from the London embassies of Belarus, Cuba, People’s China, Vietnam and the DPR Korea, many of whom laid flowers at the grave, along with staff from the Xinhua news agency, Vietnam News Agency (VNS), Morning Star and the Communist Party of Britain. Members of the local Camden Tenants’ Association and a large number of young Chinese students swelled the crowd paying tribute to the memory of Marx and his contribution to the world.

This year’s address was given by Prof David Margolies who said:

“FREDERICK ENGELS concluded his funeral oration for Marx in 1883 by saying, ‘His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work!’ However, in the 124 years since then, Marx and his work have indeed survived but they have suffered some very rough times. The McCarthy witch hunts in the late 1940s and ‘50s and the Cold War stigmatised Marxists in the West and made life very difficult for them.
“Marxism did not come through the period without damage – in both East and West. The hostile atmosphere fostered a defensiveness which discouraged exploration and development. Too often more attention was paid to being ‘correct’ rather than being useful, Marx’s writings were treated as a bible, and cliche could substitute for genuine Marxist thinking.
“Under such conditions Marxism did not flourish. The collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was greeted by triumphalism in the West. It was hailed as the definitive victory of capitalism and held up as the final proof that Marxism was an erroneous doctrine. Marxism was reckoned to be dead (although this reckoning was made without taking account of Cuba, China and Vietnam, where Marx’s ideas have remained very much alive). And even though small on the scale of world events, it is significant that Marx Memorial Library, which served the working-class movement without interruption since 1933, continues to be a major resource of Marxism.

“Today there is a further danger for Marxism that was not anticipated in earlier periods of struggle – Marxism is being co-opted in the higher education institutions of the capitalist world. There is a long and honourable tradition in this country of institutions such as Ruskin College providing university education for trade union activists and sending them back into the trade union movement empowered by their education. But in recent years the higher education sector has offered theorists, even Marxist theorists, a comfortable home, and too often their theory has become abstract and divorced from practice.
“Marx said in his Thesis II on Feuerbach, ‘The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.’ The most radical of social theories can become tame when the very system it was designed to help overthrow welcomes it – and pays its wages. Marxism in such conditions can become merely another philosophical position.
“This separation of theory from practice was ringingly denounced by Marx in the most famous quotation from his writing, his Thesis XI on Feuerbach, the words which are engraved here on his monument: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.’

“But anyone who thinks Marxism will disappear in the complacency of the universities is forgetting Marx’s own emphasis on practice. There is a renewal of revolutionary action around the world – most notably in Latin America with the Bolivarian revolution and the crumbling of United States hegemony. Changing practice, as Marx himself makes clear, leads to changing theory.
“Out of the new thinking of revolutionary movements, we can expect – and are already getting – a renewal of revolutionary theory. Engels was indeed right that Marxism would endure, but in many respects we have moved on from the specific content to which Marx applied his theory in his writings.
“Although the writings contained the most advanced thinking of the 19th century, it was the 19th century; we must be able to see through to the essentials of dialectical materialism without having the theory obscured by concentration on specific or local applications.
“Half a century after Marx’s death, one of his most imaginative adherents, the dramatist Bertolt Brecht, said simply,‘Change the world; it needs it’. The world still needs it – more than ever. It was Marx who gave us a method to understand the world and to make that change.”
Rob Laurie from London District NCP and NCP leader Andy Brooks
Mary Rosser from the Marx Memorial Library with Prof Margolies
Chinese students raise the red flag

Lawyers fight legal aid changes

by Caroline Colebrook

HUNDREDS of defence lawyers came to Westminster on Monday to Lobby their MPs against changes to the legal aid system, which they claim will force many firms of solicitors to close and will deny access to justice for people on middle and low incomes. They have followed up the lobby with a three-day work-to-rule in the courts.
Their action is supported by several pressure groups, including the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Law Society is considering making a challenge to the new legal aid contract in court.
At the same time thousands of civil servants, members of the PCS civil service union, employed in courts in England and Wales, are also considering taking industrial action in a separate dispute over pay and the funding crisis in the whole justice system.
The Law Society is expected to challenge the new legal aid contract on the grounds that it is unfair and unenforceable because the Legal Services Commission (LSC) has the power to change it unilaterally.
The changes are based on proposals arising from a Government-commissioned review headed by Lord Carter of Coles.
Solicitors will be paid fixed fees for handling cases instead of hourly rates. The solicitors claim this will lead to a 10 per cent cut in pay rates that are already low. Then the costing of the fixed fees will move towards a system of competitive tendering. collapse
The lawyers say this is likely to close around 1,700 law firms and could lead to a collapse of the criminal defence system. They also point out that the Government is ignoring a report from Otterburn Legal Consulting, commissioned by the LSC, which showed that the financial health of many legal aid defence firms is “highly fragile”.
Roger Peach, who chairs the Criminal Defence Solicitors’ Union, said: “The Government intends to drive hundreds of legal aid firms out of business.
“This monopoly purchaser is performing an experiment without precedent, which will leave tens of thousands of people unable to access justice.”
Greg Powell, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, told the press: “We are demonstrating because we are at a loss to know how to make the Government listen to why their reforms will inflict irreparable damage to our justice system.
“There is an unfolding and unprecedented crisis in legal aid supply.” working to rule
Meanwhile more than 17,000 PCS members based in courts have been working to rule since the end of last year and this action is due to intensify at the end of March as a below inflation pay increase kicks in.
They share the lawyers’ fears that Government cuts are preventing the justice system from providing a proper service to the public. These concerns have been echoed by the Magistrates’ Association in a recent letter to the Prime Minister and leading members of the judiciary.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “There is a crisis affecting the funding of courts which is leading to cuts in jobs and the pay of our members. Voices from all sides in the justice system are calling for the Government to act to prevent the system disintegrating.
“So far, senior civil servants and ministers responsible for the justice system have refused to address our concerns. Industrial action is always a last resort but our members are angry about low pay and job cuts, so our action will intensify. “We are in touch with the Criminal Defence Service Union and, if necessary, will ensure we work together to make our action effective. As the prospect of more disruption in the civil service moves closer, civil service management and the Government need to begin to address the concerns of their own workforce who are a key part of the justice system. Let us get around the negotiating table to sort this out.”

The struggle against Trident only just begun

by Theo Russell

AS LAST WEEK’S Trident debate was in session a large crowd gathered in Parliament square for a CND rally addressed by Labour MPs, peace activists and trade unionists.
MP John McDonnell said the Trident debate “was like going back 30 years – all the old arguments are being used; Cold War warriors from the back benches are being dragged out to defend the investment of billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction.”
He said that although he hoped for a large Labour revolt, “It doesn’t stop there. This is only a vote in principle – they’ll have to come back again and again and we will fight back on every occasion and vote against this proposal on every occasion.”
Fellow Labour MP Michael Meacher declared: “Whatever the vote tonight, it is the start of a long struggle.” Trident, he said, was not an independent British nuclear deterrent.
“We are ultimately dependent on the Americans, and they give it to us because it makes us dependent on US foreign policy”, he said, and warned that Parliament and the British people were being “bounced” into a fast-track decision.
Peace campaigner Jenny Westreich – a veteran of the 1958 Aldermaston march – described nuclear weapons as “absolutely wrong in principle, and ineffective in practice”.
Scottish Labour MP Ian Gibson ridiculed the argument that Trident would provide jobs, pointing out that in Barrow in Furness, Faslane and other towns associated with it have gone down, not up.
“We can change the world far far better,” he said. “What could we do with £20 billion? Build houses for people, build better transport services and schools. The skills used in the Trident programme could be used to build and develop renewable energy. What a legacy for a prime minister to go away with!”
Assistant TGWU General Secretary Barry Campfield said that nurses and teachers would pay for Trident, and pointed out that Britain was running down its defence industries. He called for Britain to become “an advocate for peace and diplomacy in the world – not for war and nuclear power”.
Veteran peace protestor Brian Haw, still encamped in Parliament Square after almost six years, spoke in front of a large photo held by two supporters of an Afghani child whose entire face had been burnt away in a Nato bombing raid. He described Hiroshima as “terrorism at its worst – terrorism at its greatest” and asked, “what else is nuclear war but terrorism?”
Britain, he said, was bombing “any country where the leader doesn’t do what we tell him to” with depleted uranium made from the waste left over from manufacturing nuclear weapons, and demanded: “USA /UK stop your genocide of the innocent peoples.”

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Karl Marx celebrated

KARL MARX was remembered by comrades and friends at the NCP’s London Centre last Saturday at a reception to mark the 124th anniversary of the passing of the founder of scientific socialism.

The main meeting room and the print shop were transformed for the bar and buffet and during the formal part of the celebrations friends from all over the world joined with the NCP to pay tribute to the memory of Karl Marx.

Comrade Jong In Song from the Democratic Korean embassy in London spoke of the contribution Marx made to the world struggle for freedom together with Judith Amanthis of the African Liberation Support Campaign Network (ALISC); Prof Mohammed Arif of the British Afro-Asian Solidarity Organisation and Ella Rule for Friends of Korea.
Marx’s role in the communist movement was high-lighted by Michael Chant of the RCPB(ML) and Harpal Brar of the CPGB (ML) and NCP leader Andy Brooks recalled Marx’s work in London; the tremendous contribution of the Soviet Union in war and peace during the 20th century and stressed that the 21st would certainly be the era of socialism.

No NCP event goes by without mentioning the work of the New Worker and Dolly Shaer from the Politburo spoke graphically about the struggle to ensure it comes out every week. The comrades responded by raising £392 for the fighting fund. Most comrades departed at 10.30 but some were determined to burn the midnight oil until the bar finally closed at 12.45!
photo: Comrade Jong In Song in praise of Marx

Monday, March 12, 2007

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

End the tube privatisation shambles now!

FOUR YEARS after the first London Underground assets were handed to the private sector, the largest union organising LU staff has called for the disastrous Public Private Partnership to be scrapped, if the capital is to have a world-class metro system ready in time for the 2012 London Olympics.
The union published a report on 31 December summarising a series of damning reports on the progress of the PPP, which it describes as a scheme with "failure built into its very fabric".
The RMT says that all the warnings that the PPP would turn out to be an expensive failure have come true, and concludes that the ‘infracos’ overseeing the tube upgrade are incapable of delivering the world-class transport system which London needs for the Olympics.
"By last summer," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said when at the report’s launch, "Metronet and Tube Lines had been handed more than £3.3 billion of public money and made nearly £300 million in profits, but by anyone’s standards they have spec-tacularly failed to deliver.
"The performance targets the privateers were set were five per cent lower than those expected when the Tube was maintained by LUL in the public sector, yet report after report has shown that the privateers have not even managed that.
"The privatisation and fragmentation of Tube maintenance have resulted in deterioration in service, missed targets, infra-structure failure, engineering overruns, an alarming increase in safety problems, and a massive increase in costs."
Crow pointed out that in contrast, after bringing maintenance back in-house "the national rail network has and is already reaping the benefits in increased efficiency and better safety."
He said time was rapidly running out "if we are to have a world-class Tube network in time for the Olympics. It is no longer an option for the government to allow the PPP to rumble on towards disaster."
"Today is the day for New Year’s resolutions, and one of the government’s must be to bring the necessary legislation forward to end the PPP and return the Tube’s infrastructure to London Underground".

Metronet shareholders face huge overrun bill

The London Underground has been plagued with problems including a four-day shutdown of the Northern Line in 2005 over safety concerns, rush-hour chaos and delays and speed restrictions since the start of the PPP.
A series of reports by the commons transport select committee and Transport for London (TfL) have condemned the shortcomings of the PPP infracos, the latest in June last year warning the situation is likely to get even worse.
In December the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) issued its first review of one of the two ‘infracos’, Metronet, warning that the company and its shareholders may have to pay for an expected £750m overrun in costs due to mismanage-ment and below-standard maintenance.
Metronet is owned by the conglomerate of giant engin-eering, construction and power companies Balfour Beatty, Atkins, Bombardier, EDF Energy and RWE Thames Water.
Metronet is attempting to pass on part of the bill to the publicly-owned London Underground, which says the government shoulder the cost rather than tube users. LU, along with the Greater London Authority and Transport for London, strongly resisted the imposition of the 30 year PPP contracts, now known to have been insisted upon by chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown.
London Underground’s managing director Tim O’Toole said the LU would not pass any of the cost overruns onto passengers if it was forced to pay some of the over-run costs, but warned that the tube network’s repair and overhaul programme would be affected LU had to share Metronet’s overrun costs. If this happened, he said "it would be a very serious indictment of the PPP structure".
The ORR’s chairman, Chris Bolt, will decide on who should saddle the costs at the end of January. It is certain, however, that Metronet shareholders will be facing a bill running into hundreds of millions.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

TU freedom will be won outside Parliament

by Caroline Colebrook

“WE SHOULD be upbeat tonight, we are going to get a chance to elect a new leader for the Labour Party,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow told a packed meeting in a House of Commons committee room last Thursday.
Over 100 supporters of John McDonnell’s bid to wrest the party leadership away from the treacherous New Labour clique had come to a meeting to back the Trade Union Rights and Freedoms Bill, to be presented by McDonnell the next day in the House of Commons.
Speakers included veteran campaigner Tony Benn, TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, CWU general secretary Billy Hayes, NUT general secretary Christine Blowers, Roger Klein speaking for the University College Union, Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, Bob Crow and of course John McDonnell MP.
The meeting was chaired by trade union lawyer John Hendy, who had helped to draft the eight-page Bill.
All the speakers pointed out that the Bill was a very modest demand. It did not give the same trade union rights as did the Trade Disputes Act of 1906, introduced in the Commons by the 26 MPs of the then newly formed Parliamentary Labour Party and supported by the Liberals.
It did not give the trade union rights enshrined in international human rights legislation, to which Britain is a signatory. But it did go a little way to restore some of the union rights taken away under the Thatcher government of the 1980s.
But in spite of the Bill’s moderation, the Blair government is opposing it.
Tony Benn pointed out the essential role the trade unions had played in creating the Labour Party and called on them to back the Bill. “Trade unions must get behind it, no one else will!” he said.
Tony Woodley gave strong examples of the Gate Gourmet and Friction Dynamix disputes, where the current trade union laws had tied his union’s hands and allowed bosses to treat workers “worse than animals”. fight
He added: “If we fight we may not win but if we don’t fight we’ll surely lose.”
Katy Clark outlined some of the stratagems that the Labour whips would be using to “talk the Bill out” and why the MPs behind the Bill needed active support from outside Parliament to put pressure on their MPs simply to get it debated.
Bob Crow gave a clear and graphic description of the irreconcilable differences of interests between bosses and workers, “It’s capital versus labour; profits come at the expense of wages and wages come at the expense of profits.”
He pointed out that the right to secondary action was needed so that other unions could support the nurses’ pay claims and the Government would not get away with offering them below-inflation rises.
“Where are the TUC tonight?” he demanded, “This is a Trade Union Freedom Bill for goodness sake!”
He also pointed out: “We won’t get trade union rights unless we create the conditions outside this House.”
Matt Wrack began: “They keep saying don’t go back to the 1970s; well, apart from some serious fashion disasters, the 70s weren’t so bad.” imposing
He pointed out that no workers want to strike and his union had gone 24 years without striking and then in the last two or three years there have been endless disputes. “It’s not because we’ve changed but because they’re imposing changes on us. They’re seeking a strike-breaking charter and they’re out to break the union.”
He told the meeting of secret negotiations for contracts with a private European fire company to provide cover in time of civil contingencies – and these included Labour controlled local fire authorities.
Both the RMT and FBU are currently disaffiliated from the Labour Party, but both said it was “a debate under review”. They both backed the labour movement firmly but their memberships had revolted at paying dues to New Labour while it was attacking them and slandering them specifically during trades disputes.
John McDonnell then explained the procedures for getting a private members Bill debated, saying it was unlikely to get a reading the next day but that he would keep on getting it rescheduled until it was debated. And that would depend of the level of support and pressure coming from outside the House: “If you want our support, we want your support,” he told the union activists present.
On Friday, as expected, the Bill did not get debated. And another Bill, which aimed to extend labour protection laws to migrant, temporary and agency workers, was blocked by Employment Relations Minister Jim Fitzpatrick.
That Bill did get a little debate but Paul Farrelly MP, who introduced it with the backing of 115 Labour MPs, was still talking when time ran out. Fitzpatrick said he would consult with interested parties but he could not give a date for any future legislation.
McDonnell said this was the sort of thing that made him ashamed to be a Labour MP.
“Deliberately preventing MPs from even having the opportunity to properly debate Bills that extend the rights of working people in this country is an absolute disgrace and brings the whole of Parliament into disrepute,” he said.

* Manchester workers at Fujitsu, an IT services company, last Wednesday 7th March took their dispute to Parliament to defend their redundancy rights, union recognition and fight for better pay.
Members of the general union Amicus made representations to local MPs in Westminster and handed in a petition signed by 500 people to the Employment Relations Minister, Jim Fitzpatrick at the Department of Trade and Industry.
The Manchester members resumed industrial action on the same day and further strike action, scheduled from Monday 12th March until Wednesday 14th March.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Thousands march against the war

PEACE protesters from all over Britain assembled in London last Saturday for a massive march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. And in Glasgow more thousands marched in the same cause.
Both were organised by the Stop the War coalition, CND and the British Muslim Initiative and supported by peace groups, trade unions, progressive political parties including the New Communist Party, community groups and thousands of individuals.
Estimates of the numbers involved in the London march range from 60,000 to 100,000, though the police estimate of 10,000 is regarded as a joke by all who were there. It was so big that one hour after the head of the march had reached Trafalgar Square; people were still leaving Hyde Park.
The march had very little coverage in the press and television in Britain but was well covered elsewhere, including on the Euro News channel.

Justice for Palestine

PAULINE Collins and Norma Rana of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign last Friday night spoke to a packed meeting room in Blackheath, south-east London, of their recent visit to Palestine’s West Bank.
Their talk was illustrated by slides and packed with information and shocking statistics on the lives of ordinary people in Palestine under the oppressive and illegal Israeli occupation.
They visited the agricultural village of Beit Furik, with a population of 25,000 situated 25 miles from East Jerusalem.
They described the key issues affecting the people of the village, including denial of access to water, which is rationed by the Israelis, and denial of access to their fields to harvest their olives.
The people of Beit Furik have to pass through military checkpoints to get to their own farm land but the opening times of the checkpoints are brief, arbitrary and constantly changing.
Permits are needed to get through the checkpoints and can be taken away arbitrarily. People can be arrested and detained for no reason. Sometimes they are released after a few hours; sometimes they disappear into prisons.
Delays at checkpoints are responsible for a number of deaths, as ambulances are denied access and both casualties and women in labour are denied access to urgently needed medical care. Many babies born to women queuing at checkpoints have died and so have some mothers.
When they get to the fields they cannot farm the slopes of a nearby hill – there is an illegal Israeli settlement at the top and the settlers harass the farmers and damage the trees. But if the land is left unfarmed for a number of years, the farmers are forced to relinquish ownership of it under laws that go back to the Ottoman Empire.
Pauline and Norma described the effects of the giant partition wall built on Palestinian land to prevent Palestinians moving about freely. The wall is not straight; it has many loops that create isolated enclaves, cutting off those within from the rest of their community.
It forces people to walk many miles from their homes to their places of work and study, which are quite close as the crow flies and it isolates clinics from the communities they serve.
The local people have a simple list of demands, including being treated as human beings, a Palestinian state equal to that of the Israelis, the right of return to the homes they have been evicted from, the restoration of their olive groves and a fair price for their goods when they take them to market.
The Women’s Union raised £1,000 in funds for the village, which was used to buy two sewing machines to make clothes for sale; a digital camera, piano and computer with internet access for the Children’s Drama Association and traditional Palestinian clothes for the boys’ dance group. They are setting up a website for the village.
photo: Norma Rana and Pauline Collins