Socialist Worker

Tories gave us the BSE horror

Issue No. 1717

Deaths follow 'profits first' decision

Tories gave us the BSE horror

A GRIM reminder of exactly what Tory and pro-market values really mean came on Tuesday with the completion of the official inquiry into the BSE "mad cow disease".

The report was handed to government ministers but will not be fully published until 26 October. It should be a savage indictment of Tory governments through the 1980s and 1990s.

Seventy five people have now died in Britain from the human form of BSE, new variant CJD. Christopher Reeve, only 24 years old, has become the twentieth victim this year already.

These deaths are a direct result of Tory rule and the big business interests which dominate the beef industry.

In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher's Tory government pushed through a massive "deregulation" of business. Bosses cut costs to boost profits. Manufacturers started using the remains of dead sheep as an ingredient in cattle feed. They also used ground up cattle remains.

The process almost certainly led to a sheep disease, scrapie, which is harmless to humans being transformed into a new disease in cattle, BSE. The first case of BSE occurred in 1985. But only in 1989 did the Tories begin to introduce any controls at all.

Even then they did not enforce them. The Tories continued to insist beef was safe. Tory agriculture minister John Gummer famously fed his daughter a beef-burger on TV.

BSE-infected meat causes the fatal brain disease new variant CJD in humans. CJD can take many years to show its effects, and no one knows how many people are incubating the disease and will die horrible deaths. Only in 1996 did the Tory government finally admit the link between BSE and this killer disease.

The result was that for over a decade millions of people were fed poison. Those who served in Tory cabinets and the beef barons are guilty of murder.

A life stolen

"THIS AND previous governments have taken my daughter's life away from her. She is being destroyed by this disease day by day and there is nothing we can do about it. The politicians knew about it, but they never did anything about it. They were not interested in human beings. They were only interested in money."

  • BILLY McINTYRE, whose 21 year old daughter DONNA is dying in Aberdeen from CJD

Truth about Greek ferry

NEWS BULLETINS in Britain rushed to blame the tragic sinking of the Greek ferry Express Samina last week on its crew watching football on television. But the truth about the disaster is leaking out in the Greek media and generating fury with the ferry's owner Minoan Flying Dolphin, and with the Greek government.

The ship's first engineer, Anastasios Sorokas, was sacked a week before the disaster for complaining about the lack of safety.

Safety flaws included:

  • Problems with instruments, which meant the ship could change course without crew on the bridge knowing.
  • The emergency generator did not work.
  • A crack in the hull.
  • Failure by the company to test watertight doors, which should have been able to contain any flooding to one area.

Minoan Flying Dolphin is the biggest ferry operator in the Aegean Sea. It runs 117 ferries and has taken over routes from smaller operators. The company and its allies in the Greek government lobbied to win an exemption from European safety directives that came in after the Herald of Free Enterprise and Estonia disasters.

Those regulations were supposed to mean that ships should be scrapped when they were 27 years old. The Express Samina was 34 years old. The company and the government have also fought demands by the Greek seafarers' union for shorter hours and better safety.

Seafarers struck over appallingly long hours just last month. The Greek government's answer to the tragedy is to deregulate the ferry industry and encourage cut-throat competition which will drive down safety standards further .

Fury at inaction on rail

ONE YEAR on from the Paddington Ladbroke Grove rail disaster the government is still letting the privatised train companies put profits before our safety.

That is the charge laid at the door of the rail privateers by the survivors and families of the victims of last October's crash that killed 31 and injured 414.

Survivor Pam Warren says, "After 12 months there has been no constructive change to railway safety. Every morning I wake up expecting another crash. It's not a question of if an accident like Ladbroke Grove will happen again, but when."

In the crash passengers died after they were trapped in a Thames Trains carriage because there were no safety hammers to break the windows. Thames Trains has reinstalled hammers-but only in first class.

The survivors are livid that the train companies are being allowed to install the TPWS safety system instead of the superior, but more expensive, Automatic Train Protection (ATP).

Tax protest Make the rich pay their share

"TAX THE fat cats!" is the slogan for a march set for Glasgow on Saturday. The demonstration, called by the Scottish Socialist Party, is to demand the abolition of the present council tax and its replacement with a local tax that hits the rich instead.

Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan rightly argues that, although the council tax was a step forward from the hated poll tax, it still favours the rich.

Scotland's richest man, Brian Souter, with a personal wealth of �500 million, pays just �1,500 council tax. Yet the average worker, a teacher, firefighter or nurse, for example, is likely to pay �750.

Under the old rates system that applied before Margaret Thatcher brought in the poll tax the richest paid 14 times as much as the poorest.

The council tax means the richest pay just twice what the poorest do. Saturday's demonstration will support the call to shift from the council tax to a Scottish Service Tax which would be based on income.

Brian Souter would see his tax bill rise to �87,500. At the other end of the scale, those earning less than �12,000 a year would be exempt.

DEMONSTRATE Saturday 7 October, assemble 11.30am, George Square, Glasgow

Labour reels in Scotland

MP DENNIS Canavan is to resign his Westminster parliamentary seat at the end of this month, provoking a crucial by-election in Falkirk West in Scotland. Canavan was expelled from New Labour last year after he was refused selection as a Labour candidate for the Scottish Parliament and stood as an independent socialist in Falkirk. He won easily.

His resignation came as one poll showed that Labour's support for the Scottish Parliament elections had slumped to just 28 percent. The Scottish National Party's support had surged to 42 percent.

The same poll also showed that the Scottish Socialist Party would win three seats in the Edinburgh parliament compared to its present one.

Crazy prison policy

TORY SHADOW home secretary Ann Widdecombe wants to turn prisons into profit-making businesses and make prisoners work for their "board and lodging." Prisons could become call centres and workshops.

Widdecombe suggests prisons could be selling the socks prisoners make in workshops to companies like Marks & Spencer. Prisoners will receive no more than the �9 a week they currently receive to spend.

Grabbing the air

GOVERNMENT MINISTERS say they have received four bids for the privatisation of the National Air Traffic Control System.

These were from US aerospace and arms groups Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, management group Serco, and the Airline Group which is made up of Britain's eight biggest airlines.

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Sat 7 Oct 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1717
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