Year 2000 No. 19, February 3, 2000

Bill to Amend Race Relations Act Does Not Deal with the Issue of Racism

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

Bill to Amend Race Relations Act Does Not Deal with the Issue of Racism

The Workers' Resource Centre Is an Important Step in Organising for A New Society

Salaried Staff at Ford Vote for Strike Action

Further on the Issue of Decommissioning

Britain’s Interference in Africa Serves Only the Interests of the Monopolies

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Bill to Amend Race Relations Act Does Not Deal with the Issue of Racism

Today the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill receives its third reading in the House of Lords.

The Bill was introduced by the government in response to the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence. The problem that the Bill is supposedly designed to tackle is that of "institutionalised racism" in public bodies such as the police. The Race Relations Act of 1976 has been held in law to be only applicable to acts of such bodies if they are of a similar kind to acts of private individuals. The responsible minister in the Lords, Lord Bassam of Brighton, explained during the Bill’s second reading in December last year that its aim is to ensure that public authorities "set the pace in the drive for equality through leading by example". Only thus, he said, can we "transform Britain into a society that is inclusive and prosperous".

It appears that the Bill is being introduced by the government to give the impression that it is taking action against the racism of the police in legislative terms, while in fact dealing with the whole problem in a superficial and outmoded form.

In a modern society, the rights of all must be guaranteed and recognised as inviolable, irrespective of nationality, gender, religion, country of origin or any other characteristic. In other words, in such a modern human society, rights are recognised and guaranteed based on no other criteria that one is a human being. In terms of the rights of citizens of a given country, all that should be necessary is to ascertain whether that person is resident in the country, and the exercise of all citizenship rights be granted on that basis.

While introducing its new Race Relations Bill, the government has been making a big hue and cry on a racist basis about "illegal immigrants and asylum seekers", and has also been defeated on its plan to eliminate trial by jury in certain cases which also had been criticised for the fact that in practice it too would have been directed against national minorities and others to put in place a two-tier justice system. These alone are indications that if the government itself is proceeding on a racist course, a new Race Relations Bill must be examined with great circumspection about its intentions.

The Bill is not based on the modern definition that the rights of all must be recognised as inviolable on the basis of a person’s being human, nor does it even attempt to deal with, for example, the responsibility of a modern society to people of different national backgrounds, in terms of assistance in promoting their national languages and cultures, and of protecting all those who are vulnerable. That is, it does not start from the premise that all have an equal right to participate in the polity and exist without discrimination. It does not even have any relation to the Minister’s claim of ensuring that Britain is transformed into "a society that is inclusive and prosperous", though that formulation in itself is one which does not recognise the rights of all.

On the basis of the analysis of "institutionalised racism", particularly of the police, it instead is directed to ensuring that Chief Officers of Police are made vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of the police officers relevant to race relations legislation, as they would be if they were employers under the 1976 Race Relations Act. However, this latter Act has not eradicated racism nor altered the fact that racism is and has been used by the state to attack the vulnerable and prevent the people from struggling together to open the door to the progress of society. Since the British state itself arose on the basis of a racist and religious division of the polity, such "reforms" as the new Race Relations Bill will not solve the problem. This racist division has been perpetuated through the British Nationality Act and other legislation which deliberately mixes up the conceptions of citizenship and nationality.

Even as a "reform" the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill will not deal with "institutionalised racism". It deliberately excludes "indirect" racist discrimination, in other words those systematic practices which treat national minorities as second class citizens. The issue is that minorities must take their place in society as second to none.

The programme of the working class is to bring about a modern society which protects those who are the most vulnerable, where state-organised racist attacks and every other attack on rights are opposed and eliminated, in which the rights of all are recognised by virtue of their humanity.

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The Workers' Resource Centre Is an Important Step in Organising for A New Society

The Workers’ Weekly Health Group warmly welcomes the setting up of the Workers' Resource Centre. The publication of the programme of the Centre we are convinced is a very important step for the whole working class movement in Britain. In a practical way, the programme gives a political and organisational form, a modern technique, to the striving of the workers to develop and implement their own independent programme. Such a programme is one that arises from their own experience and will take them on a line of march that leads to a new society.

However small its beginnings, such a resource centre and such a programme has profound and broad significance for the future. A lot of time and millions of pounds is being spent by the government in "Departments of Human Resources" within the NHS and other institutions to perfect the technique of downsizing, "best value" and so on, so that more and more work is imposed on fewer and fewer health workers. This has the sole aim of placing ever more resources at the disposal of the financial oligarchy and for the profits of private companies.

Health workers, like other workers, are continually fighting against dangerously low staffing levels and other health cuts, only to have the same conditions imposed on them over and over again. However, even when they win such battles against low staffing levels, they find themselves facing even higher bed occupancy and higher through-put of patients and greatly increased workloads.

The issue that confronts health workers, as it does every worker, is how they can set the agenda. How is the health service to be run and how are the resources to be found so that a modern health service truly meets the needs of the people and once and for all solves the problems of staffing levels and health workers’ pay and conditions, so that it is equitable and provides for their needs and those of their families? This cannot be done without a resource centre of their own that assists them to develop the techniques for organising a modern society themselves. Instead of downsizing and "best value" that is aimed at increasing the burden of work for health workers and gearing society to paying the rich, such questions as how the economy can be geared to meeting the needs of the people and providing the human and material resources that are necessary are part of the programme of the Workers’ Resource Centre.

To have established the Workers’ Resource Centre and a programme for such a centre that will enable class-conscious workers to organise around this agenda is a profound step the significance of which should be grasped by all.

Workers Weekly Health Group

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Salaried Staff at Ford Vote for Strike Action

Leaders of the MSF and TGWU at Ford met yesterday to decide when strike action should start. The salaried staff had backed such action in a ballot the result of which was announced on Tuesday. The IT and clerical staff voted 2-1 (63% in favour) for such action, which would be their first ever strike action.

Ford had offered a deal worth 11% over three years, but the workers are demanding a pay settlement equal to the 15% and cut in the working week already agreed with the hourly-paid production workers. Over 3,000 staff are involved in the dispute.

The walkout would have implications affecting Ford’s global operations, not to mention the plants around Britain, including Dagenham, Halewood, Bridgend and Southampton and the design centre in Dunton, Essex. The Dagenham site is said to be particularly vulnerable where production of Fiesta vans is on a four-day week because of poor export sales.

The dispute has also been aggravated by Ford’s decision to merge the professional staff pension fund with the hourly paid fund. The professional staff fund has a surplus of £507 million, while the hourly paid fund has a deficit of £155 million. The workers’ unions warn that Ford may use the pension surplus to fund a programme of job cuts.

A Ford spokesman commented yesterday: "We will discuss the outcome of any union decision at next Monday’s meeting which they have requested."

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Further on the Issue of Decommissioning

It is reported that "last-ditch" efforts were made yesterday to persuade the IRA to start handing over weapons. Otherwise, it is said, the implementation of the British government’s plans to suspend the Northern Ireland Executive and reimpose direct rule from Westminster is "inevitable". In the light of this we are printing the February 1 statement of the IRA, as well as the statement which Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams made responding to that day’s developments.

Statement of the IRA

``The IRA were persuaded to enter into discussions with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to help move the situation out of the political vacuum in which it had been stuck for the previous 18 months. We did so in good faith and constructively. Our representative met with the IICD on three occasions and as late as last night we were in contact with the IICD. Our representative stressed that we are totally committed to the peace process, that the IRA wants a permanent peace, that the declaration and maintenance of the cessation, which is now entering its fifth year is evidence of that, that the IRA’s guns are silent and that there is no threat to the peace process from the IRA.''

Sinn Féin response to developments

``Today's report that the IRA has said that they pose no threat to the peace process and that they are committed to the search for a permanent peace is both welcome and significant.

``These reports are further evidence of the IRA's ongoing positive contribution to the peace process. It is clear that the IRA have been engaged positively with the IICD.

``Mr. Mandelson needs to exercise caution in his public comments. It is the IICD's remit to work with the armed groups to address the issue of decommissioning and obviously to make assessments on progress. The unionists will seize on comments from Mr. Mandelson regarding this matter to support their own position.

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Britain’s Interference in Africa Serves Only the Interests of the Monopolies

On January 24, the Minister of State for Africa, Peter Hain made an intervention in the UN Security Council debate on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has been engulfed in a major war that has destabilised the whole of central Africa and involved six neighbouring countries. "Bringing peace to the Great Lakes region matters to Britain," he said, although he might more honestly have stated that what matters to the British government is how it can continue to intervene in this region, which is not only of great strategic importance, but also vital in economic terms as one of the world’s leading producers of diamonds, oil, copper, cobalt and other minerals. Although a peace agreement was signed by most of the combatants in Lusaka, Zambia in July 1999, fighting has continued, as has interference by the World Bank, Britain and the other big powers.

The previous week the British government had found itself having to explain why it was continuing to supply arms, in the form of spare parts for Hawk warplanes, to Zimbabwe, one of the countries most heavily involved in the war. The Labour government had been under attack from the other main parliamentary parties and from the press for what was considered a breach of its "ethical foreign policy". The government had already been criticised for allowing developing countries too much credit to buy arms from British monopolies. Last December, a Select Committee report showed that nearly a quarter of the deals that the government underwrites through the Export Credits Guarantee Department are connected to weapons sales. In response the government had claimed that it would stop underwriting weapons sales to 62 developing countries, while Peter Hain had claimed that now Britain does "not supply arms anywhere in the world for internal repression or external aggression".

The arms sales to Zimbabwe, just like those to Indonesia and other countries in the past, have demonstrated the reality of the government’s "ethical foreign policy", that it is a policy which is determined by the ethics of the big monopolies to make maximum profits in all circumstances. Britain is now the second biggest arms exporter in the world, but the sale of arms and therefore the fuelling of conflict is in many cases simply a means to an end. The continuation of the conflict in central Africa, for example, provides the justification for the British government to shed more crocodile tears and to again step up its "civilising mission" and pose as the peacemaker in this part of the world as it has elsewhere. It is in this context that Britain is funding the Joint Military Commission set up to monitor a cease-fire and eventual troop withdrawal in the DR of the Congo and has sent personnel as part of the UN team in the region. Peter Hain has also stepped up calls for further access to the region, using the pretext of the "humanitarian situation" as well as demanding that the UN mounts a "peacekeeping operation" in the DR of the Congo. But as is well known, the intervention of the big powers under the auspices of the UN or by other means have not brought a resolution or peace to other conflicts in Africa, whether in Somalia or Angola, in Sierra Leone, nor in the past in the Great Lakes region itself. Rather they have been used as the pretext for Britain and the other big powers to further entrench themselves, to further destabilise and re-colonise a continent which has already suffered so much from the rivalries and machinations of the imperialists. In this context it cannot be forgotten that it was the intervention and interference of the big powers and the UN which led to the murder of the first Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba in January 1961, to be followed by their imposition of the bloodthirsty Mobutu regime.

It is a fact that those who create all the world’s problems cannot provide their solution. The British government’s intervention in Africa’s conflicts is based around the strategic and economic interests of the big monopolies. But just as in the 19th century when it participated in the so-called "Scramble for Africa" in this region, now it claims its interference is based on "humanitarian concerns", a "civilising mission" or the "white man’s burden". The conflicts in Africa in the 19th century culminated in disaster not only for that continent but also led directly to war of 1918 that engulfed the whole world. The demand of all democratic people must be that Britain gets out of Africa and leaves the people of Africa to sort out their own affairs.

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