Dated: 19 Jan 2002
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THE BIGGEST smear campaign against left wing union leaders for over a decade. That is the only conclusion following a flood of scare stories in the right wing press aimed at union leaders whose members are rightly demanding action. Rupert Murdoch's anti-union Sun ran two pages on Monday claiming that a "new breed" of union leaders are "plotting a new Winter of Discontent" against the New Labour government.
TONY BLAIR wants an elite of 3,000 top civil servants to double their pay to £180,000. But he is fighting hard to keep rail workers and postal workers on poverty pay. He has denounced the rail workers' strikes for decent pay. The Post Office, run by the government, has offered a rise of 2 percent, 70p a day, to 150,000 Royal Mail workers.
THE TREATMENT of Zimbabwean asylum seekers has underlined the inhuman way Britain treats refugees. For months, while top government figures denounced Zimbabwe's human rights record, Zimbabwean asylum seekers were sent back to torture and death. Now, after an intense campaign and under huge pressure, the government says it will temporarily halt deportations to Zimbabwe.
THE SCOTTISH Executive this week looked set to delay its introduction of free personal care for the elderly for three months. The executive was meant to introduce free personal care this April. Now its introduction could be delayed until the autumn.
DO YOU want your local hospital run by management consultants like PriceWaterhouseCoopers or KPMG? That is the logic of the plans announced by health secretary Alan Milburn this week.
OVER 140,000 people are convicted of drug offences in Britain every year. Most of them do not receive the kid glove treatment Prince Harry got. About three quarters of those convicted are charged with cannabis possession-the offence Prince Harry has admitted to.
"TUITION FEES are to stay." So reported the Mirror newspaper this week. The government said it would review tuition fees after it admitted it was one of its most unpopular polices. The results of the review are due at the end of this month.
DOMESTIC politics have returned powerfully to the United States, as further revelations have come out over the collapse of energy giant Enron. As Socialist Worker showed in its 8 December issue, the scandal will reverberate for a long time to come.
THE TUC has forecast that 150,000 manufacturing jobs will be slashed in 2002. This week Marconi, the giant telecoms group, was threatening to slash 4,000 jobs worldwide. That could mean over 1,000 workers in Britain are set to lose their jobs, on top of the 3,000-plus jobs Marconi has already slashed.
AROUND 70 people joined a Marxist forum on "Women's liberation in the 21st century" in Manchester at the weekend. Sheila Rowbotham, a leading socialist feminist writer, joined Lindsey German, author of Sex, Class and Socialism, to lead off the forum. After a question and answer session with the speakers the forum broke into discussion groups. Maryam Choudhary, a further education student in Manchester, brought her friend Kate from college: "If you ask people to come they will. I wasn't apprehensive about it at all. It was really good to hear everyone else's views, not just the views of our teachers."
AROUND 150,000 Royal Mail workers are voting on a national strike over pay. At present their basic pay is around £250 a week before tax. Royal Mail bosses want them to accept a pay deal worth just 2 percent. Hard-working people, many working outdoors in all weathers and early in the morning, have been offered just £5 a week.
"WE WILL never give up fighting to find out who killed my brother, Roger Sylvester. We have found out that the police, judiciary and Crown Prosecution Service all work together to protect a system of injustice" said Bernard Sylvester. He spoke out as over 100 people joined a candlelit vigil on Friday of last week called by the family of Roger Sylvester, a young black man who died in police custody three years ago.
AROUND 100 people, mainly young locals, protested against the Nazi National Front (NF) marching through the Kent town of Bromley last Saturday. The NF claimed they were marching against paedophiles, but didn't manage to con any local people into supporting them.
HUNDREDS OF porters, cleaners and ancillary staff at Morecambe Bay Health Trust in Barrow, Kendal and Lancaster have unanimously rejected management's 10 percent pay offer. Most workers currently take home a measly £130 a week and are demanding a 15 percent rise.
STRIKES ON South West Trains and Arriva Northern were still set to take place next Thursday and Friday as Socialist Worker went to press. Drivers on ScotRail were continuing to refuse to work on rest days. Their action, to win a pay rise to bring them up to the level of other drivers, has led to the cancellation of one in four services.
CAMPAIGNERS are organising a conference in Brighton next week over safety at work. Among those backing the conference is the Simon Jones Memorial Campaign. Simon was killed on his first day at work as a casual worker in Shoreham docks. His death led to a long-running campaign and court cases against the company he worked for.
CIVIL SERVANTS who work in Britain's job centres and benefits offices are preparing for their next round of strikes on Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 January. The action, by members of the PCS union, is a great opportunity to turn up the heat on New Labour and civil service management. New Labour increased its intimidation of strikers last weekend with the threat that people will not receive promised promotions if they continue to strike. "The decision makes clear the contempt in which management holds members' concerns," said Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary elect.
"IN JUST three days we've had 78 emails from trade unionists wanting to take part in and sponsor the conference."
THE FIRST strike for over 20 years hit the Caterpillar plant in Peterlee, County Durham, last week. Workers at the US multinational owned firm walked out for a day over a pay freeze and attacks on conditions.
PRO-PALESTINIAN activists returned to top London store Selfridges last Saturday. Before Christmas the store agreed to stop stocking goods labelled "Made in Israel" which had been made illegally in occupied Palestinian territories. The store's bosses came under huge pressure to restock the goods. The Israeli ambassador in London toured the shop.
PARENTS, STAFF and the local Socialist Alliance are set to fight against New Labour's plans to close nine council nurseries across the west London borough of Ealing. Four of the nurseries cater for under-fives with special needs. Ealing council is viciously hacking back services. The closures will hit voters in key Labour wards in Acton and Southall.
A PARLIAMENTARY committee heard last week that the private housing companies lining up to take over council homes face a growing cash crisis. The House of Commons public accounts committee heard how 13 housing associations had to be taken over by rivals to avoid going bust.
SOME 150 people joined a lively and noisy protest outside the London offices of the World Bank last Saturday in solidarity with the uprising in Argentina. Interest payments on the country's $140 billion debt are a key factor behind the crisis gripping Argentina.
THE NATIONAL Union of Students has called a national demonstration on the theme of "Grants not fees" for Wednesday 20 February. Some 20,000 students joined a similar demonstration in 2000. NUS leaders have tried to channel the anti-fees campaign into small local actions and lobbying activity.
NATIONAL UNION of Journalists members at a series of Bradford-based papers have voted to take strike action. The journalists, who have only recently won union recognition, planned to strike on three days this month.
COLOMBIA WAS facing a bloodbath this week as peace talks in its long-running civil war teetered on the brink of collapse. A last minute deal extended the deadline until this weekend.
HUGE DEMONSTRATIONS swept Argentina again at the end of last week. People swarmed onto the streets of Buenos Aires after the new government of President Duhalde tightened the restrictions imposed by the previous president, De la Rua, on people getting money from their bank accounts.
SUPPORT IS growing for the next major anti-capitalist events, which take place from 31 January to 4 February. Protesters are organising in New York in the US against the annual World Economic Forum meeting of business and political leaders.
LOYALIST TERROR reached shocking new levels in Belfast in Northern Ireland this week. Two masked Loyalist gunmen shot Catholic postal worker Danny McColgan dead as he arrived for work on the mainly Loyalist Rathcoole estate last Saturday morning. They shot him five times in the back and twice in the head. Danny was 20 years old. He and his partner, Lindsay, have a 13 month old child.
POOR ZIMBABWE. One of the richest countries in Africa, it is now in economic freefall. Closely interwoven with this is the political crisis pitting the government of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
SOCIALIST WORKER has seen vital documents about the involvement of the Trades Union Congress in the current elections to high office of the RMT rail union. They make it clear that at least one official at the TUC has been plotting with a right wing official of the RMT to improve the vote of right wing candidates and smear rivals from the left. The main documents are:
EVERY TRADE unionist should be asking questions about what is happening inside the TUC. While some newspapers denounce the "politically motivated union men" behind the rail strikes, we can show who the real plotters were.
TRANSPORT IS the number one political issue in Britain. For the whole of last year it registered at the top of people's concerns in opinion polls. Now the crisis has blown up in New Labour's face. It has taken industrial action by rail workers to force the government to take notice of the bitterness of millions of people as they struggle to complete even short journeys. Tony Blair's response last week was to attack striking rail workers. But transport was in chaos long before the recent strikes. The biggest reason is that successive governments have spent so little on the basic infrastructure. Spending on transport as a share of national wealth has halved in the last 20 years. In its f
"Street Crime Is So Bad I Fear For My Children". This was the sensationalist front page headline of the Daily Express last Wednesday. The words were from John Denham, New Labour's crime reduction minister. Other alarming headlines screamed "Huge Surge In Mobile Phone Thefts", "The Gangs We Can't Do Anything About" and "Black Youth Carry Out Most Street Robberies".
DO YOU think there's going to be a Winter of Discontent? I THINK there is a real possibility. Before the attacks in New York on 11 September we saw a rising mood of bitterness in the trade unions over privatisation, and discussions about breaking the link between the unions and New Labour. That was beheaded on 11 September. When the TUC conference was called off, so was the debate over privatisation. Blair got away scot free.
BLINDFOLDED, hooded and manacled-that's how Afghan prisoners have arrived at the US military base on Guantanamo Bay. The Taliban and Al Qaida suspects were dragged stumbling and terrified from a cargo plane. Some had been diagnosed with TB. Others were drugged. Some had their beards forcibly shaved off. They were not allowed to use toilets during the 27-hour flight from Kandahar.
TWO ISRAELI bulldozers rolled into the Palestinian refugee camp in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on Thursday of last week. Guarded by Israeli soldiers, they crushed the homes of 112 families, leaving over 600 people homeless, around half of them children. The Israelis also tore up the runway of Gaza airport.
The sudden attack of sickness I experienced since the day I was asked to attend the preview of Black Hawk Down has not yet dissipated. I was expecting to see images of the dead. I did not anticipate the depths of the film's cynical use of the pain of a nation to bolster an immoral purpose.
Black Hawk Down does not even attempt to explain why the vast majority of Somalis hated the US forces by October 1993. When the troops arrived they were welcomed and greeted as friends come to help. Within months their behaviour had alienated people who had cheered them. Once the US forces began clashing with Somalis, the US helicopters began what they called "rotor washing"-hovering above houses and markets so that the downdraft blew walls apart and tore off roofs.
"FLAKY." That's how transport secretary Stephen Byers described the core ideas of the New Labour government this week. It is an astonishing admission from a man who has long been one of Tony Blair's closest allies. Byers was an evangelist for the "Third Way" ideas he now concedes are off the wall.
Labour selection row THE BLAIRITE Huw Irranca-Davies was last week selected as the Labour candidate for the Ogmore parliamentary by-election in South Wales. As a local Labour Party member I am disgusted that left winger Mark Seddon, clearly the most outstanding candidate, was excluded from the shortlist. A panel headed by the chair of the Labour Party, Charles Clarke, excluded Mark. Mark opposed the war in Afghanistan and Labour's Private Finance Initiative privatisations.
TONY BLAIR may have tried to present himself as a peacemaker on his recent trip to India and Pakistan. But two forthcoming official events in the region, supported by Blair's government, will fuel the conflict.