Thursday, November 29, 2007

London news round-up

A Palestinian voice in London

COMRADE Fouad from the Palestinian West Bank town of Beit Furik has been in London for a week for a busy speaking tour, telling Londoners of the plight of the Palestinian people and building friendship and solidarity in support of the twinning process. Last Friday he spoke to students at Goldsmiths College in New Cross; on Saturday morning he helped at the South East London Palestine Solidarity’s regular stall in Lewisham and on Saturday night addressed a packed assembly in Lewisham Mosque.
He told the crowd of the logistical problems created by the Israeli occupying forces that make the lives of Palestinians very difficult.
Israeli checkpoints cover all the roads in and out of towns and villages. Getting through these checkpoints can take hours of queuing to be searched and humiliated – affecting students of their way to college, sick people on their way to health centres and farmers on their way to their fields or to markets.
The checkpoints have erratic opening times, making normal routine living almost impossible.
Fouad also spoke of the big wall, built on Palestinian land, that has taken up a lot of the best agricultural land; he spoke of the mushrooming settlements that take yet more agricultural land – the economic lifeblood of the Palestinian people – and take up the sparse water supplies. Meanwhile Palestinians in summer, when their small domestic wells run dry, are forced to pay $7 for 10 cubic metres of water.
But many cannot pay – there 75 per cent unemployment in the West Bank in general and 80 per cent in Beit Furik.
During questions and discussion, Fouad said he did not have hopes of any positive outcome of the current peace talks in Annapolis because they did not address a single one of the Palestinians’ basic demands.

Tube cleaners’ massive pay victory

TUBE CLEANERS employed by Metronet – the company contracted to upgrade London Underground’s infrastructure – are to receive substantial pay rises when Transport for London takes over the failed privateer’s contracts. This marks a huge victory for a two-year campaign by the RMT transport union.
RMT last Friday revealed that Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has agreed that the London Living Wage of £7.20 an hour will become the minimum for some 900 cleaners on former Metronet contracts from the moment TfL take charge of them.
For some cleaners paid only the minimum legal wage of £5.85 it will mean an increase of at least £1.35 an hour – well over 20 per cent.
“This is great news that marks a significant victory for RMT’s Justice for Cleaners campaign, and Tubelines must be next,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
“For more than two years RMT cleaners, supported by their colleagues across the Tube network, have been campaigning for the pay justice, dignity and respect due to them, and the first major victory is now in sight.
“We have lodged claims with all the cleaning contractors working on the Tube – including ISS, which is contracted to Tubelines – for £7.20 to be the minimum hourly rate, with a minimum £1 hourly night premium, for all Tube cleaners.
“No-one can accuse us of being unreasonable for asking for the free travel that other Tube workers already get, a minimum of 20 days holiday over and above bank holidays, sick pay and a pension scheme.
“It is nonsense that cleaning contractors who make millions cannot afford to pay a living wage to the people who do some of the dirtiest and most difficult jobs on the Tube, and the time has come to start bringing cleaning back in-house,” Bob Crow said.

SERTUC health and safety conference

AROUND 400 trade union delegates attended the South East Region TUC “Working together for Health and Safety” conference at the TUC’s London Congress House on Friday 23rd November.
They heard Lord McKenzie, the parliamentary under-secretary responsible for health and safety as he reported that last year two million workers took sick leave through stress and other work-related illnesses. not good enough
The conference was told that 241 died through accidents at work – though McKenzie claimed this indicated a downward trend.
The conference concluded that this was not good enough, especially in the construction industry – the most dangerous sector in Britain.
Mike Fletcher, representing the public sector union Unison North-East Essex Mental Health branch told the conference that the basic health and safety problem in his sector was shortage of staff and that attacks on psychiatric nurses were increasing.
He said that female staff left alone on wards – because of staff shortages – were particularly vulnerable to attacks from patients.
Mike called for the reversal of all privatisation in the NHS.
Ambulance workers also told the conference of the effects of staffing cuts, which endangered both staff and patients. They said that in the whole Norwich area at times only two ambulances were covering the whole area.
One delegate asked Lord McKenzie why his own health and safety department was about to be cut by 20 per cent.
Road sweepers told the conference they had no access to toilets while at work and had been told by employers that they could only use toilets at certain times.
Nevertheless it was a productive conference and showed a heartening rise in the number of ethnic workers in the ranks of trade union activists.
It concluded by calling for an improvement of health and safety in factories, construction sites, the NHS and education.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Broadening the battle to rescue Real Labour

by New Worker Correspondent

AROUND 250 members and delegates from affiliated organisations, including the NCP, attended the annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee in London’s Conway Hall last Saturday. The LRC unanimously approved some major rule changes to broaden its structure. Full membership is now open to all affiliates and individuals who are not members of parties that stand in elections against Labour. This gives the NCP full affiliate rights and now any individual member of the Party can join the LRC.
The LRC also welcomed two major trade unions – the train drivers’ union Aslef and the National Union of Mineworkers – as affiliates. Existing affiliates include the RMT transport union and the Fire Brigades Union.
The LRC was formed three years ago in an echo of the first Labour Representation Committee that founded the Labour Party, to recover the party for its original primary function to give representation in Parliament for the organised working class – the trade unions.
It suffered a set back earlier this year when LRC leader John McDonnell MP failed to get enough MPs to back his nomination to trigger a leadership contest when Tony Blair resigned.
This was in spite of a huge campaign in trade union branches and constituency Labour Parties all around the country that mobilised thousands.
Ironically this campaign resulted in a surge in Labour Party membership as people were persuaded to join and fight against Gordon Brown’s automatic succession to the premiership.
At the conference McDonnell thanked all those who had supported the campaign, including the affiliated unions and the Socialist Youth Network. But he acknowledged they had overestimated the political strength and integrity of the Parliamentary Labour Party. US colony
Veteran socialist Tony Benn was the first speaker, who began by saying that Britain is now “in effect an American colony” following Gordon Brown’s recent Mansion House speech, in which he pledged Britain’s continuing loyalty to the United States.
“We are now managed, not represented,” said Benn. He went on to say that New Labour policies in support of American imperialism have “alienated our supporters” but that “anger and mistrust are not the same as apathy”.
There was much discussion and anger at the conference over the way that the leadership of the “big four” unions had agreed to the changes in Labour Party conferences to remove all policy discussion from the conference floor.
“Now we have a conference where you can’t move a resolution. Why did the unions go along with it?” said Benn. He finished by saying: “I’ve stopped protesting. I’m too old now and protesting has become part of the culture. They take no notice. Now I’m demanding!”
Other speakers included CND leader Kate Hudson, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, John Trickett MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka and Karen Reissmann, the Manchester mental health nurse who has been sacked for trade union activity and campaigning against closures and privatisation.
standing ovation
The conference gave her a standing ovation as a bucket went round for contributions to the Manchester Unison strike fund for the action that is demanding her reinstatement.
There were many contributions to discussion from the floor, including two from New Communist Party delegates. NCP industrial organiser Mike Fletcher spoke on the struggles of Unison members employed by NHS mental health services in East Anglia and voiced support to Karen Reissmann. And Daphne Liddle spoke on the plight of bonded labourers in Pakistan.

photo: Daphne Liddle making a point

Nepal: First successful revolution of the century

by Theo Russell

COMRADE C P Gujral, International Secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), addressed a highly successful meeting in London last week organised by the Britain South Asian Solidarity Forum.
Gujral gave a detailed analysis of the CPN(M)’s strategy as Nepal enters a decisive phase. The enemy, he said, was no longer the monarchy, but “US imperialism”.
“Actually we are now fighting US imperialism. The fight against the monarchy is almost finished. Even if we achieve the Nepalese revolution, imperialism will not allow it to be sustained.”
“Following last year’s mass uprising, an agreement was reached by the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), which included the UML (Communist Party of Nepal/United Marxist-Leninist), and the CPN(M), for an interim parliament and government to prepare elections for a new constituent assembly.
“The US was opposed to this process as it contradicted the interests of US imperialism. When it was agreed that the CPN(M) would enter the interim parliament with 82 members, the US threatened to stop all assistance to Nepal.
“When the CPN(M) entered the interim government the US threatened to ask its allies to impose economic sanctions on Nepal. But the United States’ policy met with total failure.”
Elections for a new parliament were set for June this year, but were postponed by the Election Commission for technical reasons, and since then they have been postponed again twice.
Meanwhile arms and money have flowed into the southern Terrai region to promote ethnic conflict and violence.
Gujral said the US had prepared two “ambushes” against the CPN(M). “The first was for the CPN(M) to lose the elections, and if it didn’t accept this, they, and any mass movement supporting them, would be declared as ‘terrorists’.
“The second was that if the CPN(M) won the elections, the US had prepared contras – the Terrais – and would claim that the elections were rigged by the CPN(M) and that these forces were fighting for ‘democracy’.
“The CPN(M) saw these two threats to be trapped and killed, but the CPN(M) was also working out how to win the revolution.”
In August the CPN(M) leadership adopted a strategy of a mass mobilisation, recognising a “serious mistake” was made in agreeing that only a new government could declare a republic, “when it should have been declared before the elections.”
The Maoists “made a clear demand for a republic backed by a mass movement and decided to withdraw from the government and to refuse to participate in or allow the elections.”
In September a CPN(M) motion to the interim parliament to declare a republic was carried with the UML’s support.
“The CPN(M) is now saying they will oust the Nepali Congress from the government via a mass movement, and a new government should be formed,” Gujral said. “This would make the US very angry as it opposes any CPN(M) participation in the government.
“The CPN(M) knows that if it becomes the head of the government the US will not tolerate this. Thus the CPN(M) has asked the UML to take power.
“US imperialism and Indian expansionism are opposed to this strategy, and would not tolerate a revolutionary government. So the next stage will definitely be very difficult.
“The US is not interested in Nepal’s resources or in economic control, but is afraid of the worldwide impact of the revolution in Nepal. People are looking to the Nepali revolution, because it would set a precedent for revolution for the oppressed, exploited and struggling people of the world.
“There is also a growing Maoist movement in India, and the Indian ruling class is very afraid of the success of the Nepali revolution and is ready to take any action.
“So the situation is heading towards a climax. It is very difficult to predict what will happen in the next weeks or months. It is a life or death struggle we are working out in Nepal, and the situation is very serious, so at this time we think international support is very important.
“We are preparing our people for the worst eventuality of foreign intervention.”
Gujral said Britain is supporting the peace process and there was an apparent diversion between British and US policy, and reported important developments in the CPN(M)’s relations with China.
“The CPN(M) has established relations with China, and the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu has issued a statement saying that China would not tolerate any interference in Nepal, including by India.”
This announcement followed “rigorous discussions” between a senior official of the Communist Party of China’s international department, Professor Wang. In an interview Wang said that if the US or India attempted to intervene in various ways in Nepal, China would not tolerate such actions if a certain limit was exceeded.
Gujral concluded by saying: “We are confident that we will eventually see the success of the revolution in Nepal, the first successful people’s revolution of the 21st century.”

photo: Peter Tobin, Mushtaq Lasharie and C P Gujral

The Next Step: A Sinn Fein Road Map

by Theo Russell

THE WOLFE Tone Society last Saturday held a well attended conference on Irish Unity at the London Irish centre.
Speakers included Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff who represents Omagh in Tyrone on the Northern Ireland Assembly; Billy Leonard, Sinn Féin Councillor on Coleraine District Council, an ex RUC reservist and after initially joining the SDLP moved to Sinn Féin; Maurice Quinlivan, Sinn Féin’s Limerick representative and former convenor of the Wolfe Tone Society; Barry McColgan of Ogra (youth) Sinn Féin and Eibhlin Glenholmes, National Co-coordinator for Sinn Féin, an ex-prisoner and now working on Sinn Fein’s National Strategy on achieving Irish Unity.
Eibhlin outlined Sinn Féin’s current strategic challenges: the contentious issue of policing; developing engagement with the unionist community; building solidarity in Britain, and building an Ireland of equals.
She described engaging with the unionist community “a major challenge for us and I’ve no doubt for them as well”.
“Our intention is to break down all the barriers which prevent unionists from seeing our goal of re-unification as no threat – a massive mindset change for them. We are meeting with unionists on a day-to-day basis.”
The Northern Ireland Assembly election in March saw Sinn Féin achieve its highest ever vote in the north, gaining 28 MLAs and five ministerial places.
Billy Leonard said: “There is a sense among Ulster unionists – or two thirds of Ulster unionists – that the sense of ‘Britishness’ was always conditional. There was never complete trust in London and how things evolve in Great Britain and the island of Ireland will impact on that sense of Britishness.
“There is a saying that we unionists are ‘British in Belfast and Irish in Berlin.
“A new mood has been created by the Good Friday Agreement. We have seen peace and the growth of political debate, but the restoration of power to the north in terms of finance means that what happens in Belfast is really only distribution of the ‘London cake’.”
Barry McElduff said: “We do look to Dublin for leadership and responsibility – I look to Dublin as my capital. As far as I am concerned Stormont is only a stepping-stone.”
He added: “I have a problem with being denied the right to be Irish in the six counties. I have a problem when FIFA has problems with people from the six counties playing for the Republic.”
There followed a deep debate from the floor that ranged from British censorship and propaganda to Iraq and Afghanistan and recent pro-socialist developments in Latin America.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Honouring the Soviet war dead

THE SOVIET Memorial Trust last Sunday morning, 11th November, marked remembrance Sunday with a solemn ceremony at the Soviet memorial in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum.
Wreaths were laid by the Ambassadors of the Russian Federation, the Ukraine, Belarus and most of the former Soviet Republics – as well as a large number of veterans’ organisations. These included the Arctic Convoy Club, The International Brigaders, the British Legion and others.
  • Rob Laurie, a Central Committee member, laying flowers on behalf of the New Communist Party.

Third World Solidarity in London

by New Worker correspondent

ABOUT 45 to 50 people packed a committee room in the House of Commons to express serious concern at, and protest against, the repressive measures taken by Pakistan’s General Musharraf to silence opposition.
The meeting was organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Third World solidarity and chaired by the APPG’s Dave Anderson MP.
Three MPs were amongst the speakers, including Khalid Mahmood and MPs from Birmingham and Leeds. Several persons from the media directly involved with Pakistan, namely, Mohammad Ziauddin, Saundra Satterlee and Amer Ghauri also addressed the meting.
All speakers expressed their serious indignation at General Musharraf’s latest measures of his dictatorial regime. Councillor Mushtaq Lasharie maintained that the so-called declaration of emergency was in fact nothing but a martial law. This was later echoed by several others.
The media speakers highlighted the growing struggle between the Pakistani media and General Musharraf. His loud and hypocritical talk about freedom of the press is presented with various repressive measures against the newspapers and the TV.
This is particularly crucial as most Pakistanis, deprived of adequate literacy, rely on the TV for their information. There was an advocacy of imposing foreign sanctions against the Pakistan government, but there were differences on this issue.
Earlier, the British Foreign Secretary had issued a four point statement to the APPG meeting, in which he asked the Pakistan government “to guarantee free and fair elections on schedule in January”. Lord Ahmad of Rotherham in his contribution suggested that sanctions should be applied exclusively against the army generals and their families, who should be regarded as terrorists as well.
A spokesperson of the Britain South Asia Solidarity Forum pointed out from the floor that the root of Pakistan’s perpetual problems lies in its feudal socio-economic set up. This was supported by Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, who maintained that the collaboration of the country’s clerics with the army constituted the basic problem. The meeting ended with a determination of solidarity with the people of Pakistan fighting for democracy and social justice.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

NCP weekend school in London

NEW COMMUNIST Party members, friends and supporters last weekend attended a school at Party Centre in London to discuss fascism, the state, developments in Latin America and the effects of neo-colonialism in Africa. All the sessions were chaired by NCP general secretary Andy Brooks. Neil Harris on Saturday morning gave an opening, full of detailed facts and figures, of the class and economic forces behind fascism.
In the afternoon Daphne Liddle gave an account of the nature of the state machine in class society and traced the development of the state in Britain, especially from 1668 onwards.
On the Sunday morning Theo Russell spoke on the progressive developments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and the rest of the South American continent and new left-wing governments defying the military and economic power of the United States.
And on the Sunday afternoon Explo Nani Kofi of the African Liberation and Solidarity Campaign spoke on the way in which neo-colonialism subverts and corrupts governments on that continent – and how the western media gives a distorted and partial picture of what is happening.
Each opening was followed by high level debate.

Red October at the Centre!

by New Worker correspondent
NEW COMMUNIST Party members, supporters and friends gathered in London last Saturday evening to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Great October Revolution in Russia.
Among the friends who came to say a few words and join in the festivities were Len Aldis of the British-Vietnam Friendship Association and Explo Nani Kofi of the African Liberation Support Campaign (ALISC).
They both spoke of the inspiration that the Great October Revolution had given to people in struggle all around the world – that oppressed workers had not only been able to overthrow a mighty imperialist empire but were then able to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat and start building socialism.
In doing so they turned an economically backward country, barely emerging from feudalism in some parts, into a world power.
NCP general secretary Andy Brooks said that perhaps the most important achievement of the Soviet Union was the leading role it played in the smashing of Hitler fascism. It then went on to challenge the rapacious greed of the western imperialist powers for their super exploitation of the developing countries.
NCP chair Alex Kempshall presented veteran comrade Alan Rogers with a bust of Lenin to mark the enormous contribution he has made to the party at all levels over many years.
Alan, many years ago, was in the Labour Party and then the Communist Party of Great Britain. Then he and Ann Rogers joined the Southall branch of the New Communist Party. They have both worked had in their district and on the Central Committee – and have also been active in CND.
Most recently Alan has been one of the treasured team of pensioner volunteers who keep the New Worker functioning in the sales and distribution department. Alan has been in charge of the subscription department but age and failing health have forced him to retire from this and the NCP decided to mark his retirement with a presentation. He was also called on to cut the 90th anniversary birthday cake.
A group of pro-Nkrumah young people dropped in for food and discussion and many other friends and supporters from different corners of the world came by.
The excellent food was supplied by NCP members and supporters and a collection raised £528 for the New Worker.
photo: Alan Rogers receives a bust of Lenin

Rally to defend the NHS

by Daphne Liddle

HEALTH service trade union members, patients and local community groups are set to descend on London in hundreds if not thousands this Saturday for a national demonstration in support of the National Health Service and to protest at creeping privatisation.
The demonstrators will assemble at 11 am on the Victoria Embankment by Temple Tube and march to Trafalgar Square for a rally on 3rd November.
All around Britain patients, local community groups have been joining with nurses, doctors and other health workers to campaign locally against cuts, ward closures and hospital closures and to support the demonstration.
While beds, wards, hospitals and jobs are being axed an escalating process of privatisation is happening as services and resources are being transferred to the public sector to be run for profit for shareholders.
There have been events all around the country in this demonstration organised by the umbrella group Keep Our NHS Public! won the backing
The campaign was launched in September 2005 and has won the backing of hundreds of senior doctors, academics, health workers and trade union leaders, celebrities, MPs and local campaigners for its launch statement.
These include public meetings in Manchester and Tower Hamlets this week and another in Shrewsbury on 7th November. The giant public sector union Unison is urging its members to support the demonstration.
Unison head of health Karen Jennings said: “We want your help to encourage as many members and campaign supporters as possible to join us on the march and rally in a mass show of support for the NHS – a world-class public service that takes care of our health and gives us all peace of mind.
“Help us campaign to defend the NHS and to celebrate its founding principles. Join the demonstration and send a strong message to the Government that big business and the profit motive have no place in our health service.”
Meanwhile in Scotland the union has welcomed a decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner to force Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to release its private management contract.
The union said that this would be an important precedent for other contract information.

wasting billions

Earlier this month a Unison report showed how using private firms to build and run schools and hospitals in Scotland was wasting billions of pounds.
It showed how these financial figures were kept from the public due to claimed commercial confidentiality.
Unison Scottish organiser Dave Watson said: “This decision is good news and could be the first step to a return to transparency in public finances.
“We have consistently said that such bogus commercial confidentiality is being used to hide the rigged calculations used to justify PFI and PPP schemes. All the figures should be provided for public scrutiny.”
The union has a number of appeals to the information commissioner challenging attempts by public bodies to keep information about private finance initiative and public-private partnerships secret by citing demands by contractors.
“While this decision will help, it also shows how important it is to bring companies involved in PFI/PPP contracts under the scope of freedom of information legislation,” Watson said.