Dated: 30 Oct 1999
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THREE QUARTERS of voters believe that the government should take Railtrack back into public ownership. That was the finding of a poll published in the Guardian on Tuesday of this week.
A STRIKE to protect rail passengers' safety was declared illegal by high court judge Mr Justice Turner on Friday of last week. Rail bosses want to change the guards' duties so they are no longer responsible for train safety. Instead they will be glorified ticket collectors and food sellers.
MUCH OF the press has flown into a French bashing frenzy. The pretext is the refusal of the French government to accept assurances that British beef is safe and free from the BSE "mad cow" disease. The foreigner bashing tabloids have seized on the revelations that some French farmers have illegally been using sewage based animal feed for their cows and pigs.
THE NEW Labour government ordered the police to crack down on protests against Chinese president Jiang Zemin's tour of Britain, according to a source in Blair's cabinet. People who had suffered years of imprisonment in China's jails or were demanding human rights were blocked and manhandled by the Metropolitan Police.
MANY OF the elderly are set to become victims of the market in old people's homes. The private sector runs many nursing homes after local authorities came under pressure from the Tory government to sell them off.
WORK MAKES you ill, and things are getting worse, says a new Health and Safety Executive study. It found a 122 percent increase in work related illness between 1990 and 1995-6. As many as 1.3 million people reported work related illnesses in 1995-6. Some 58 percent of them suffered from upper limb, lower limb or back disorders, and about a third took time off because of stress. Manual workers account for 72 percent of all reportable workplace injuries.
THE INQUEST into the death of 28 year old Peter Knox began this week. He was found dead in Belmarsh prison in January. He was the fourteenth prisoner to die in Belmarsh since it opened in 1981. A recent report produced by the inspector of prisons showed that between 1988 and 1998 there were 600 "self inflicted" deaths in prison custody. Peter's family says he should have been in a hospital due to a mental condition.
THE POLICE Complaints Authority is to investigate eight officers who were called to investigate a racist attack on a black college lecturer but who then, allegedly, beat up the lecturer. Denese Mapp is a science lecturer at Haringey College in north London. She says she phoned the police after a man threatened her with a knife and shouted racist abuse at her family.
WEEKS AFTER Tony Blair proclaimed at Labour's conference that the class struggle is over, a damning new report shows that class division has never been greater in Britain. The survey was based on four million households across Britain. It shows that after two years of Labour in office inequality is growing. For a few there is immense wealth and opulence. For the majority there is insecurity and either very real poverty or the threat of poverty.
WE WERE told that "it could never happen here" after the recent nuclear disaster in Japan. Yet it nearly DID happen here, according to a series of revelations in the Observer newspaper.
NEW LABOUR was humiliated by a court ruling in Scotland last week. Three protesters who had caused thousands of pounds worth of damage at the Faslane Trident nuclear submarine base on the Clyde were cleared of any offence. Sheriff Margaret Gimble ordered a jury at her Greenock court to acquit the three after ruling that nuclear weapons were illegal under international law.
An excellent 450 students registered for last weekend's Students Fighting For Socialism, with 43 people joining the SWP. Two things were clear from the weekend. Firstly there is a real possibility of a major fight in the colleges over the question of fees. Across the country we should be building the national demonstration called by NUS on 25 November, building support for non-payment of fees and arguing for occupations. But on a wider level there is a widespread rage against capitalism. If Socialist Worker Student Societies are at the centre of the agitation over fees and address the wider anti-capitalist mood, we can build in any and every college.
HUNDREDS OF Parcelforce workers struck unofficially for two days at the Canning Town site in east London last week. They won brilliant solidarity from other depots. But national union officials condemned their action. Then they narrowly persuaded a mass meeting to agree a return to work with very little gained from management. A CWU union member at Canning Town Parcelforce told Socialist Worker, "We have been shunted back to work when with a bit more support from the top we could have won."
OVER 1,200 students at Cambridge University demonstrated last Saturday against rises in room rents. The demonstration was part of a campaign which has included rent strikes at some of the colleges this term. Around 240 students at King's College have pledged not to pay their rent, which is set to rise by around 40 percent over the next five years.
"I'LL GO anywhere in the world to get this out in the open." Those are the words of Jim Stanley - brother of Harry Stanley, who was killed by police in east London.
ABOUT 40,000 electricians in the construction industry have just finished balloting over their two year pay offer. The result was due after Socialist Worker went to press.
AIR TRAFFIC control staff in Manchester took their concerns over the threatened privatisation of the service to the public on Saturday of last week. Half a dozen members of the IPMS union, which organises air traffic controllers, leafleted shoppers in the Arndale centre and got a tremendous response.
THE SACKED Lufthansa Sky Chefs workers at Heathrow airport in west London are planning a number of events to mark the anniversary of their dispute. The workers have been fighting for their jobs for one year, after being ruthlessly sacked for taking part in a legal one day strike.
A RECENT board of governors meeting at Wirral Metropolitan College backed the principal's decision to issue dismissal notices to all lecturers who are still refusing to sign a new, worse contract. About 70 lecturers, members of the NATFHE union, are affected. They have fought the attack, which means increased hours, holidays slashed and redundancy terms cut from 12 months to four months.
THE ANTI-debt Jubilee 2000 coalition has called a protest outside the Treasury in London for Thursday 11 November. The call has received an enthusiastic response from groups of students and more are set to discuss it in the days to come.
THREE LABOUR controlled councils in the West Midlands have announced plans to privatise their entire housing stocks - 150,000 homes. These sell offs can be stopped. Tenants and trade unionists need to get behind the local campaign which already has the backing of Dudley council's UCATT convenor. The year long campaign in Sandwell in the West Midlands won and defeated the privatisation of 8,000 homes.
AROUND 500 angry building workers working for Norwich Labour council's direct labour organisation (DLO) protested outside the town hall last week against threatened job cuts. The council wants to privatise the DLO, which affects around 900 workers. The demonstration started after it was announced that the council was discussing a deal with the firm Morrison which could include 100 job cuts.
THE BIGGEST region of Britain's biggest union, UNISON, has thrown its weight behind the socialist challenger to the union's current leadership. One of the delegates at the UNISON Greater London Regional Council spoke about why they decided overwhelmingly to back Roger Bannister's challenge to take over from general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe after he steps down. She said, "The meeting showed a real mood against the union's leaders. "A statement opposing the union leaders' attacks on the recent lobby of the Labour Party was overwhelmingly passed. When Bannister spoke, he was applauded. Around 25 people got together at the end to organise around his campaign."
THERE WAS uproar at the annual conference of the National Organisation of Probation Officers (NAPO) last week when Home Office minister Paul Boateng spoke to delegates. He started off by trying to assure those attending the conference that they could trust the government's changes in tackling crime. He said, "I am a socialist minister in a socialist and democratic government. We are not going to tinker about. We have a radical agenda."
THE VERDICT in the long running union disciplinary case against Glasgow UNISON activist Roddy Slorach has been adjourned until 16 November. Roddy's reconvened hearing last week saw him rebut the union leaders' allegations against him. Scottish UNISON secretary Matt Smith, who carried out the initial investigation into Roddy, was not even present.
LONDON Underground workers on the Northern Line were celebrating a victory against management's attendance at work procedures this week. Members of the RMT union at Morden had balloted for strike action after driver Dave Emms was sacked for being ill. Management reinstated him the day before the result, which would have shown a big yes vote.
A LABOUR council's privatisation plans have been thrown into turmoil following the revelation of a document leaked to local socialists. Neath and Port Talbot council had been planning to privatise the schools meals service. The move could affect children and hundreds of workers' jobs.
Gloucester AROUND 120 council workers joined a noisy lobby of Gloucester Labour council's meeting called to discuss the introduction of car parking charges. The council was discussing a motion put forward by the Liberal group calling for the £250 charge to be withdrawn. But the Labour councillors look set to continue with their policy.
TEACHERS' leaders have thrown away a fantastic opportunity to halt New Labour's assault on comprehensive education in its tracks. Leaders of the largest teachers' union, the EIS, agreed a pay deal with employers which falls far short of what teachers and pupils deserve.
Channel 4's "Black History" month has restored my faith in the ability of television to take important historical subjects and present them in an unpatronising and accessible way. The centrepiece has been the four part series Britain's Slave Trade. It took as its inspiration Eric Williams's 1964 study Capitalism and Slavery, but updated it and brought it alive.
"I'VE BEEN a Labour Party member for many years. But I'm so angry at the government that I came out with a torrent of abuse when someone rang me to donate to the Labour Party election fund. I'm giving the money to Socialist Worker instead." So said pensioner Thelma Battersby as she handed £5 to a Socialist Worker seller in Birmingham last week.
"WE'RE NO longer Florence Nightingales. We're fighting back." Those were the words of Susanne Kennedy, one of 10,000 striking Irish nurses who brought the centre of Dublin to a standstill on Thursday of last week.
"THERE'S NO point wishing for anything because I know it's going to carry on like this forever." That voice of despair was Tracey, a 14 year old sleeping rough who was freezing cold and had not eaten or slept for two days. She was one of those interviewed in the Channel 4 documentary series Staying Lost.
Tony Blair and his cronies are out to block Ken Livingstone from becoming London mayor. Only last week Neil Kinnock, former Labour Party leader, said: "When people get down to remembering Ken's real record as the man who brought about the destruction of the Greater London Council, the man who invented the London loony left, then they'll say we really don't want this guy to represent the greatest city in the world."
WHEN I started work as a civil servant at the London Passport Office 18 years ago I made the terrible mistake of believing I was going up in the world. I arrived at work wearing my best suit. I got the shock of my life. Everyone else was wearing jeans. All I did all day was stamp passports. I was part of a clerical production line.
IN THE summer of 1889 the London Evening News and Post reported on the huge strike wave then sweeping the capital. The Bryant and May match girls' strike a year earlier had been, it concluded, "the proverbial small spark" which had "kindled a great fire".
"NOW EVERYONE can see why the Metropolitan Police wanted no one to see this report." So said a bitter Sukhdev Reel last week after her MP, John McDonnell, and Hackney MP Diane Abbot used parliamentary privilege to read out a damning report on the police investigation into her son Ricky's death.
A CONCENTRATION camp for refugees. That is what the New Labour government is now planning. The Home Office is to open a privately run camp for refugees on the site of a former military barracks at Oakington near Cambridge. This will double the number of asylum seekers locked up at any one time.
THE SHORTLIST of Labour candidates for London mayor will be announced in two weeks time on 16 November. Tony Blair wants Labour's candidate to be in place before Christmas.
"THE ELECTORAL college has nothing to do with democracy. It has everything to do with keeping Ken out." That is how one Labour MP, speaking to the Times newspaper, summed up Tony Blair's desperate attempt to block Ken Livingstone from becoming Labour's candidate for mayor of London. Even would be candidate Glenda Jackson, who was a government minister, complained that the selection procedure had the appearance of a "stitch up".
Scottish director Bill Forsyth's new film Gregory's Two Girls is on general release. By choosing to make a belated sequel to his 1981 film, Forsyth has taken a calculated risk. The original Gregory's Girl was a gem of a film. It was a story about working class teenagers set in the new town of Cumbernauld on the outskirts of Glasgow. It made Forsyth's name as an accomplished film maker. He went on to make the whimsical Local Hero and the much underrated Comfort and Joy.
Poet Benjamin Zephaniah has written a new children's book called Face. The story is centred around the character of Martin, who is a white school student who has a facial disfigurement. I read this book with my children, aged six and ten, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Every page brought a new twist.
WHAT A contrast. Ford workers strike unofficially for a day. The result: one of the most powerful capitalists in the world almost immediately flies across the Atlantic. Rail union leaders call off a one day strike over safety by guards because it is declared illegal by a high court judge. The result: Railtrack could get away with murder.
My message to Railtrack | LET'S MARCH FOR SAFETY | From Indonesia to China – Blair backs butchers | AEEU must hold ballot
THE GOVERNMENT has sold so few copies of its annual report that it has been forced to buy up tens of thousands of unsold copies. New Labour put 100,000 copies of its report on sale in Tesco's. But, of the 49,000 copies sold, the government admits it bought 41,000 of them. That still leaves another 51,000 copies rotting on the shelves.