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They’d sell their granny for profit

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Issue 1696

What we think

They’d sell their granny for profit

DEPUTY PRIME minister John Prescott tried desperately to defend the privatisation of air traffic control at the MSF union conference on Monday. But his speech was met with stony faces. Many in the audience were longstanding Labour Party members and activists. Some were Labour councillors. The delegates had just voted overwhelmingly to condemn the sell-off of air traffic control.

They cheered and cried, “Hear, hear!” when delegate Michael McLaughin laid into privatisation just at the moment Prescott arrived on the stage. “My god, is this what we put a Labour government in power to do-privatise things?” he said. Prescott was trying to put to the test New Labour’s theory of why it did so badly in last week’s local elections. It isn’t the policies, ministers say, it’s the way they are presented.

They refuse to accept that Labour supporters up and down the country used the local elections to show their bitterness at government policies. Ordinary people hate to see fat cats stuff their pockets with money while workers fear for their future. How many of New Labour’s rich friends worry about paying their bills, or if the building society or the bank will repossess their home?

Yet New Labour’s response to the worries of millions of people is to push for more privatisation and more of the market running our lives. Working class people want something better than the continuation of Tory policies. That mood isn’t just reflected at union conferences. It is in every workplace, on every estate and across every community.

It was shown in the vote for socialist candidates in the London elections last week. But that mood needs to be given direction and turned into a movement that challenges New Labour.

So far our trade union leaders have failed to seize the opportunity to mobilise people angry at job losses and privatisation. Instead their instinct is to urge caution, not action. Union leaders argue that workers in manufacturing industry should put their faith in deals which mean thousands of redundancies will still go ahead. And it allows the government to throw up its hands and claim there is nothing it can do to stop the ravages of the market.

That is why more than ever we need to keep the pressure up on trade union leaders to fight for jobs. Moreover, we urgently need to build a movement that provides a socialist voice for all those sickened by New Labour and its Tory policies.

Diamonds first, people second

DIAMONDS AND the death squads that protect them lie behind the crisis in the West African country of Sierra Leone. Around 1,000 British Paratroops and warships were sent to the region this week. The emergency mission, run jointly with the UN, was to evacuate up to 400 British residents who have become embroiled in the civil war in the country. The blank cheque for this mission was in sharp contrast to the fight between government departments as to which should pay for the aid sent to flood-devastated Mozambique in March.

Then the Ministry of Defence said it would charge Clare Short’s Department for International Development 2.2 million for just four helicopters. The UN involvement in Sierra Leone has nothing to do with concern for poor people’s lives. Sierra Leone is a diamond mine. The filthy rich De Beers firm has fought to maintain its lucrative interests in the country. Businessmen like these are screaming for the UN to get involved in the region so they can maintain their flow of profits.

For the 4.5 million African people who have lived in a country torn apart by civil war the UN mission offers no comfort. British Paratroops are evacuating those people who queue at the gate marked “Brits”. For those at the gate marked “Others” there is little hope. And any Africans who might flee to Britain seeking asylum would find politicians and the press eager to label them as “bogus”.

See page 13 for more on Sierra Leone.

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