Saturday, June 30, 2007

London Transport deal with Caracas

LONDON Transport commissioner Peter Hendy last week led a team to theVenezuelan capital Caracas to negotiate a deal – initiated by President Hugo Chavez – to exchange expertise in dealing with traffic congestion for oilfor London buses.
The evening rush hour in Caracas is nightmarish, with vehicles jammed in giant motionless queues, while hawkers sell beer to frustrated motorists;motorcyclists mount pavements, endangering the lives of pedestrians and police look on indifferently.London is to receive a discount valued at £15 million a year for oil for its buses – which will be passed on as half-price tickets for people on income support.
In return, London Transport leaders will pass on their experience and expertise at improving public transport and introducing congestion charging in Caracas.Hendy said it was unclear whether Caracas would gain an equal value benefit: “It’s clearly not the case that the expertise we have is so unique that you could never get it anywhere else. But if you did get it somewhere else you’d have to pay for it, and it might be of uncertain provenance.”
Meanwhile Metronet, one of the private companies contracted to carry out a huge overhaul of London Underground’s network in a public-private partnership, is seeking a review of its performance as the costs are soaring far more than it expected.Metronet is estimated to be heading for a £750 million deficit on the deal that could climb to over £1 billion.Metronet argues that Transport for London should share the extra costs because it has had to carry out work not specified in the original contract.
But TfL, backed by London Mayor Ken Livingstone, has blamed the overspend on management incompetence at Metronet.A TfL spokesperson said: “Evidently the extraordinary review process must not divert Metronet and their shareholders from the need to radically improve the company’s performance. The promised improvements to Tube track,trains and signals must be delivered on time and on budget.”

Fire cleaners awarded £7.20 per hour

THURSDAY’S meeting of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority saw contractor fire station cleaners awarded the London Living Wage of £7.20 an hour after a week of political disagreement.The previous week the fire authority’s Finance, Procurement and Property committee, voted against paying the London Living Wage and the matter wasreferred to the full committee.
Since then Mayor of London blocked the appointment of a number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat appointees to the body leading to both sides accusing the other of unlawful behaviour.Earlier this week the Mayor advised the London Assembly he had appointed an additional woman Assembly Member, Angie Bray, taking the number of femaleAssembly Members to two. Bray replaced one of those nominated by the Conservative Assembly group.
Speaking after yesterday’s decision the Mayor said: “This was a hard fought victory against those who prefer poverty pay to a living wage. The members of the fire authority who voted to apply decent wages to their cleaning staff are to be congratulated, but it shows there is a very sharp dividing line on this issue in London.”
Conservative Assembly Member (AM) and LFEPA Vice Chair Brian Coleman warned that the increase in pay could see four stations close.“Paying London Fire Station cleaners the London Living wage of £7.20, as Labour’s Val Shawcross suggested, is just ridiculous. A wage hike to those levels is equivalent to the cost of running four stations.“If we went ahead with this pay deal, the money would have to come from somewhere and she needs to say where. Do we close four fire stations to pay for it?”This claim was later denied by Labour AM and Chair of the London FireAuthority Val Shawcross.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Politics after Blair

from New Worker Correspondent

AROUND 200 people gathered in Euston, London last Saturday to hear speakers from the trade union and labour movement and to debate and discuss the future of politics in Britain after Blair in a conference organised by the Morning Star.
The opening plenary session was chaired by the Morning Star’s editor, John Haylett and the first speaker was Jon Cruddas MP – one of the candidates for the Labour deputy leadership. Cruddas spoke about rebuilding the Labour Party and regaining the 4.5 million votes the party lost between the general elections of 1997 and 2005.
He called for support for black and ethnic minorities, public sector workers, students coping with serious debt and manual workers.
He also spoke on the way that the neo-Nazi British National Party is winning votes from people who do not know where the BNP is coming from and who are turning to them from despair.
Cruddas blamed lost votes on the Iraq War debacle, a failure to defend multiculturalism, the privatisation of public services and the deterioration of working class housing.
In a debate on trade union freedom Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, declared: “Social Democracy cannot save the working class from the effects of global capitalism.” Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, reported to the conference that the prison service chief Phil Wheatley has taken his union to court five times, aiming to criminalise the union for defending its rule book.
Union lawyer Peter Hendy spoke of the struggle to regain trade union rights taken away by the Thatcher government – a fight he intends to take to the European Court of Human Rights.
In a debate about privatisation and public ownership, Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack spoke of the effects of free market capitalism that has been unleashed in Britain since the time of Thatcher and Reagan. “Public service has been sliced up and contracted out,” he said. And he predicted that Gordon Brown would be unlikely to change this.
Other speakers included Father Geoffrey Bottoms, CND’s Kate Hudson and Andrew Murray of Stop the War on a debate on peace.
Then Tony Benn, Dot Gibson of the National Pensioners’ Convention and Salma Yaqoob spoke in a debate on social equality. thanked
In the final plenary session John McDonnell MP thanked those who had backed his bid to challenge Brown’s accession to replace Blair – though the breakthrough failed to happen. And London Mayor Ken Livingstone spoke of next year’s mayoral election.
The prevailing politics in the conference were social democratic Labour and Communist Party of Britain revisionism and there was a complete lack of input from any Marxist-Leninist perspective.
Nevertheless it was a very intensive and worthwhile conference, covering lots of political issues with powerful contributions from union leaders and from the floor.

RMT condemns Tube booking office cuts

"UNNECESSARY AND dangerous” plans by London Underground to close 40 ticket offices and to reduce drastically the opening hours of dozens more will be resisted, the RMT transport union said last week.
RMT warned that the proposals were the thin end of the wedge, and that no Tube booking office would be safe if London Underground was allowed to proceed with its first round of closures and cuts.
“These plans will be met with anger from Tube workers and passengers alike because they are unnecessary and dangerous,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.
“We need to see more visible staff on duty at stations, but not at the expense of booking offices, which provide an essential service to the public way beyond selling tickets.
“The 40 ticket offices earmarked for closure are the tip of the iceberg, because London Underground Limited (LUL) wants to close many dozens more at weekends, during off-peak hours and afternoon peaks hours.
“These are straightforward cuts and they affect every Tube worker because they will lead to more ticket disputes, more assaults on staff, more stress, and more of our members working alone.
“We have already made it clear to London Underground that we regard these proposals as fully negotiable,” Bob Crow said.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Enough! Demo in London

Enough is enough! End the occupation!

AROUND 20,000 protesters last Saturday marched through central London, including a contingent from the London District of the NCP with the national banner, demanding an Israeli withdrawal from all Palestine lands occupied since the Six-Day War.
The demonstration, organised by the Enough Coalition to mark the 40th anniversary of that war, was supported by trade unions, community and Islamic groups and by progressive Jewish groups.
The march made its way from Lincolns Inn Fields to Trafalgar Square for a mass rally. Among the speakers was Palestinian Information Minister Dr Mustafa Barghouti. He said: "There is something wrong with the world when, before the leaders of nations, occupation turns to apartheid and nothing is done, when Israel is allowed to build a wall three times as long as the Berlin wall and twice as high, which divides Palestinian from Palestinian, not Palestinian from Israeli." He called for a boycott of Israeli goods.
Professor Immanual Hassassian of the Palestinian delegation to Britain said that Israel could not "be a democracy and an occupier at the same time".
Other speakers included Betty Hunter of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Unison deputy general secretary Keith Sonnet and former Israeli soldier Netan’l Silverman.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

London fire service divided on cleaners' pay

LONDON Mayor Ken Livingstone last Monday called upon members of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) to ensure that the London living wage of £7.20 per hour is paid as a minimum to the fire authority’s cleaners, after members of authority’s finance committee were split over the issue.
The fire authority’s finance, procurement and property committee met on Monday to discuss awarding contracts for cleaning fire stations and other premises. But members were evenly divided on the issue.
Now it will now be discussed at the full LFEPA meeting on 21st June.
Three members voted against paying the London living wage to contract cleaners, whilst three voted to ensure that the living wage rate was paid.
The three opposed to the living wage were Brian Coleman Assembly Member (Conservative, Barnet and Camden), Bob Blackman AM (Conservative, Brent and
Harrow) and Cllr Maurice Heaster (Conservative, Wandsworth).
Ken Livingstone said: "This is the nasty wing of politics. It is scandalous that there was an attempt to block the payment of the London living wage to these cleaners.
"We are now seeing relentless attacks on policies to ease cost of living for Londoners on the lowest incomes, from votes on the London Assembly to abolish free bus and tram travel for children, to this attempt to block a decent wage for fire station cleaners.
"The meeting of the fire authority on 21st June should reject the arguments of those who want to pay cleaners a lower wage and I strongly urge fire authority members to vote to pay these cleaners the London living wage.
"The current figure of £7.20 per hour as a basic London living wage is significantly higher than the national minimum wage because of the high cost of housing in London."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Memorial to the Iraq War

by Stella Moutafis

THERE SEEM to have been a lot of art reviews in the New Worker lately – well (and you can trust me on this) it is not just to fill the pages!
The point is, there has been much to see in London recently in the field of art with some political content. And as “Art” can serve to explore and reflect on social and political ideas, it has been worth covering. The continuing imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have inspired a new round of politically conscious modern artistic expression and this is reflected in a new exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London.
The ICA was established in 1947 by a collective of artists, poets and writers to showcase and champion contemporary culture across a wide range of art forms and it consists of two galleries, two cinemas, and a theatre all on one site, plus a bookshop, cafe,and bar. Its mission is “to be a home of new arts, culture, and ideas”.
For this exhibition, 26 artists were invited to submit proposals for a memorial to the Iraq War, addressing the invasion and occupation of the country, its slide into civil war and the conflict’s relation to global jihadism and the “war on terror”.
The mostly young contributors come from various countries in Europe, the Arab world, Afghanistan, and the United States. With the stated aim to “encourage debate about how this episode in history might be remembered,” this exhibition is the result. Obviously, though, the conflict is very much still ongoing.
There is work in various mediums, on both Iraq and related subjects, such as the “war on terror” and the US concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay.
Just a few of the very varied works on offer include: The American artist Nate Lowman, whose presentation of burnt-out American petrol-pumps from the 1950s and 60s represents both the “American Dream” and what US involvement in the Middle East is all about and what makes that “dream” possible!
Afghan artist Lida Abdu has created a series of 10 postcards entitled A history of the world through ruins. Not at all “wish you were here” type images – but photos of destruction either directly or indirectly the result of the “war on terror” in Afghanistan.
Memorial 2007 by Swiss artist Christoph Buchel is an initially puzzling series of three rooms, representing a drug administration room waiting area, and an empty white room.The storyline is the supposed giving to users of powdered drugs and body ashes of victims of war, to induce a ‘trip’ to be experienced inside the white void. The faithfully-reproduced hospital details are instantly recognisable by those of us who have spent some time in such places!
Performance art, also on offer, includes “Fallujah”, which is we are told based on verbatim testimony from the heart of the war zone.
The venue for an exhibition on this subject is ironic - The Mall, London, being within an area that could be described as “British Imperialism Central”. Our supposed ruler is one of the ICA’s neighbours here; her home — Buckingham Palace is just round the corner.
There may well be visitors to Her Majesty who might benefit from some instruction in the subject of the inhumanity that imperialist states mete out in pursuit of their ruling class’ agenda. If so ,they should stroll across to the ICA for this exhibition....and, maybe, have some enlightenment!

The Memorial to the Iraq war exhibition continues until 27th June. The ICA is located on The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH. Galleries open daily 12pm – 7.30pm (9pm on Thursdays) during exhibitions and the admission price is £2.00.

Latest issue on Information Bulletin out now


Confidence in the workers

by Ray Jones

Information Bulletin 2/2006 15, £5.00 plus 50p P&P, NCP lit, PO Box 73, London SW11 2PQ.

“...I WISH YOU good work and a final word of great confidence. Confidence we feel presently in Portugal. Confidence in the workers and in our struggle. Confidence that, looking around this room we feel in the future of the world,” said Jeronimo de Sousa from the Portuguese Communist Party in a positive and up lifting welcome to this international meeting of communists hosted by the PCP.
Communists from all over the world came together in Portugal to inform, support, explain and debate; giving useful insights into their work at home and their take on the world situation. Their deliberations were strengthened by the presence of the communist parties of Cuba, Vietnam and China (as an observer) — parties which hold state power.
The contributions contain much of interest which enlighten as well as occasional eye openers and things that make you scratch your head — for example the failure of the Sudanese party to mention Darfur and the Communist Party of Britain’s implied claim to be leading the British labour movement in its country briefing.
Andy Brooks from the New Communist Party of Britain gave the bottom line when he said: “The communist movement is based on the revolutionary principles of Marxism-Leninism. Its purpose is to equip the working class so it can establish working class state power and then build a socialist society. Bourgeois democracy is a fraud...Socialism is essential to eliminate exploitation, unemployment, poverty, economic crisis and war. Socialism is the only solution to climate change, pollution and global warming...”

Turnham Green peace market

by New Worker Correspondent

THE NEW WORKER and other New Communist Party literature sparked plenty of interest at last Saturday’s annual peace market at Turnham Green, West London.
Comrades from Southall NCP were kept busy raising funds for the New Worker: selling home-made marmalade, second-hand books and bric-a-brac. They were also busy talking to people and engaging in discussions.
The sunshine and relaxed, friendly atmosphere made for an enjoyable day; a profit of £60 was raised.