Year 2000 No. 135, August 16, 2000

Inward Investment Would Be Final Blow to Coal Industry

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Inward Investment Would Be Final Blow to Coal Industry

NHS Plan Involves Cuts in Beds

Asbestos Victims of British Mining Company in South Africa

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Inward Investment Would Be Final Blow to Coal Industry

RJB Mining, which owns most of Britain's coal-mining industry, looks set to be taken over by a US conglomerate.

RJB is in talks with Renco, one of the largest private corporations in the US, with £1.7 billion of annual sales. The corporation has interests in US magnesium mines, among others, is one of America's largest steel producers, and manufactures military vehicles for the US army. Renco is headed by Ira Rennert, a billionaire industrialist noted, according to reports, for his ostentatious standard of living and for financing US politicians. Renco is said to be offering around £110 million for RJB Mining.

What is Renco's interest in RJB? For one thing, the government has underwritten long-term supply contracts of RJB to power generators, a guarantee worth £100 million. For another, the Department of Trade and Industry has said it will pay a £75 million subsidy to RJB Mining, whether or not Renco kept or sacked the 3,000 mine workers whose jobs the subsidy was designed to secure (£25 million has been promised to mining communities). The coal industry in Britain only now employs 13,000 workers overall. And it is safely predicted that Renco would close pits. The 50,000 acres of land owned by RJB is ripe for redevelopment. RJB paid £814 million for the bulk of Britain's coalfields six years ago.

In other words, what is termed "state intervention" has made RJB Mining an attractive proposition and a bargain for take-over by US capital. It is clear that such inward investment would be the final blow to the coal industry in Britain. No one is arguing that Renco would be willing or able to halt the coal industry's decline. The final chapter of this section of Britain's manufacturing base looks set to be written, and an industry that had 700,000 workers in 1947 would be at an end.

Is there an alternative? The above facts show that state intervention under the present economic system is neither a guarantee of jobs or of a flourishing industry. And where the government points to various success stories of inward investment and hinges its economic strategy on such appeals to foreign capital, these success stories are turned to disasters in the blink of an eye. The steel, car and electronics industries are all examples. In such circumstances, changes in interest rates, the strength of the pound, and other fiscal factors, are all quite peripheral to the underlying problem.

Nothing other than a change in the direction of the economy is the answer. The "knowledge-based economy" which the G8 countries, among others, are promoting, does not represent a change in direction either, and is not an alternative. It represents only increased globalisation and taking the national economy further down the road of destruction. A change in the direction of the economy means that the economy must be made to serve the people's needs, and what has to be changed is the criterion of "success in the global market" as the motive force in the economy.

What will bring this about? It is not absurd to demand that the government abandon the criterion of "success in the global market", stop pouring money into the pockets of the rich through state intervention and a thousand and one other ways, and instead begin to put more into the economy than is taken out. Unless this is the number one economic demand then all others only spread further illusions about the nature of the capitalist system which is causing disaster for the people.

However, workers should also view the situation from the standpoint that it is their force as a collective and as leaders of the society which will provide the way out of the crisis. They should therefore get organised to discuss what are the features of a new socialist society and how to set out to achieve such a society. Their spirit must be that what they produce is theirs by right, and they should organise to ensure that this social product remains in their hands.

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NHS Plan Involves Cuts in Beds

Research carried out at University College London has confirmed that the bed capacity of hospitals being built under the first wave of the government's PFI building policies will be nearly 30% less than under existing facilities.

The research estimates that just over 2,000 beds will be lost in just the first 11 new hospitals of the PFI scheme, and that the numbers will increase dramatically as the scheme is extended.

Tony Harrison, a fellow of the King's Fund, an independent health "think-tank", commented: "There is an obvious incoherence to the government's policy. On the one hand they are saying they will increase acute bed numbers by 2,100 by 2004 yet on the other they are cutting capacity in the new hospitals being built through PFI."

Doctors have warned that if this trend continues, the reductions will lead to a substantial increase in cancelled surgery, and further increase the crisis in the health service, particularly during the winter months. The BMA has estimated that more than 5,000 beds will be lost in total as a direct result of the PFI building programme.

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Asbestos Victims of British Mining Company in South Africa

Cape plc operated in the Northern Province of South Africa until the late 1970s.

There are 1,000 former mineworkers who were only recently judged by the House of Lords to have a claim for compensation against the company for asbestos poisoning. As many as 2,000 other workers in the Northern Cape were also affected.

However, this only means that their claim can be heard in Britain, and lawyers representing the workers warned that the battle for compensation was still to be won. Even the extent of Cape's responsibility has yet to be legally determined, and the date for a court case has yet to be decided as has the amount of the claim against the British company.

More than 25 victims of the diseases and induced cancer from the asbestos have died waiting for the case to be brought to trial.

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