Year 2000 No. 5, January 14, 2000

Release of Pinochet Lets Government off the Hook

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

Release of Pinochet Lets Government off the Hook

Workers Movement:
Ford Professional Staff Set to Strike

Workers’ Movement News in Brief
Workers Demonstrate at M&S over Job Losses
Teachers Oppose Five-Term Year
Trains Delayed as Drivers Refuse to Work Overtime
Railway Workers Vote for Strike Action
Dunlop to Cut 650 Jobs

Flu Crisis:

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Release of Pinochet Lets Government off the Hook

On Wednesday, January 12, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, gave his decision that he was "minded" to halt the extradition proceedings to Spain of General Augusto Pinochet of Chile. His statement comes after a medical team had examined Pinochet and come to the conclusion that he is "at present unfit to stand trial and that no change to that position can be expected". Thus, 15 months after General Pinochet’s arrest in London, Jack Straw has reached the same opinion as was given by Margaret Thatcher at the time of the arrest.

The way the question of the arrest of Pinochet was handled in October 1998 had nothing progressive about it. Similarly, the release of Pinochet at this time on "humanitarian" grounds has nothing progressive about it. During this whole period, no serious principle of international law has been tested or clarified, no properly constituted international criminal court has been set up or seriously discussed, no exposure has taken place of the creation and bringing to power of Pinochet by the direct intervention of US imperialism or the support of the big foreign monopolies and foreign governments which kept Pinochet in power. What has the government been at pains to cover up? At first, the government was quite smug that Pinochet’s arrest would give credence to the "ethical dimension" of their foreign policy. But why did they not proceed to point the finger not only against the US imperialists who were the backers and partners in crime of the fascist Pinochet, but at Margaret Thatcher also for her crimes against humanity, for her backing and espousal of Pinochet and making common cause with him? Do Jack Straw and Tony Blair stand against such intervention which brought and kept Pinochet in power? Tony Blair’s New Year message this year only contained rhetorical questions about when it might be right for another country to intervene in another’s affairs. The government would like to keep these questions rhetorical so that they can continue to label some regimes dictatorships when it suits them to do so, and to label some interventions "humanitarian" when it suits them to do so, and never appeal to the revolutionary determination of the peoples of the world to settle scores with their own oppressors.

Nor was the government keen to expose the nature of General Pinochet himself who declared in 1983 that he would wage "a war to the death against communism" and refused to legalise socialist and communist parties. The CIA is on record as saying when Salvador Allende was elected as Chilean president in 1970, "It is the firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup." In the early days of his brutal regime, Pinochet told those who protested, "I am a soldier and President of the Chilean nation, under attack from the disease of communism, which must be eradicated. Marxists and communists must be tortured, otherwise they will not sing." Pinochet at the same time pursued a policy of free-market economics which was to be emulated in Britain by Margaret Thatcher, and widely praised by such figures as a means of freeing economic policies from the "burdens" of state control. Could it be that the government wants to put all these hard facts behind it in the interests of the "third way" between communism and fascism? Could it be that the government does not want that all the guilty parties should be indicted for their crimes and brought to trial, for all the thousands tortured and killed in Chile, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people who have butchered by the CIA and its creatures, particularly the revolutionaries and communists?

The working class and progressive forces must continue to be very vigilant about the intentions of the imperialists as we march into the 21st century. The Blair government has shown that under the guise of "humanitarian concern" and "opposing dictators", it has been stepping up its armed intervention in various strategic areas of the world. It is continuing to try and divert the workers and democratic people in Britain from seeing where justice lies, and above all from settling scores with imperialism and fascism once and for all.

Article Index


Workers movement

 

Ford Professional Staff Set to Strike

Seven thousand professional staff at Ford UK plants, including engineers, IT and admin staff, are set to ballot for strike action over pay and conditions. The professional staff make up more than a quarter of the workforce, and are engaged in the development of future models, managing the production process and running the internal financial and logistics services. The ballot is due to take place on January 19 and the result is due on February 3.

The staff rejected Ford’s pay offer in December, under which they would be given no reduction in the working week, while the plant workers were. The company is saying that are employees are being treated equally because a 37.5 hour week had already been applied to the majority of salaried staff, compared with about 40 percent of manual workers. However, while the deal with the production workers is worth 15% over three years, the company’s final offer to salaried staff is worth only 11%.

It would be the first time in the history of Ford UK that professional staff had taken industrial action. Because of Ford’s globalisation programme in recent years, it is reported that strike action would have world-wide effect. The workers are based at Ford plants across Britain, including the Dagenham factory and the Merseyside Halewood factory.

Terry Pye, National Secretary of the MSF (Manufacturing Science and Finance Union), said, "Ford is treating the salaried staff as second-class citizens." He said that Ford has pushed the staff too far, and that they "are dedicated, highly skilled professionals who have given Ford loyal service over many years and have only asked for fairness in return. If the company does not return to the negotiating table, industrial action may be inevitable. The damage this will cause to industrial relations at Ford will be felt for many years to come."

TGWU National Secretary Bob Purkiss said: "Our members are angry that they are being taken for granted by Ford. The professional staff are Ford’s only hope of regaining market share in a fiercely competitive industry."

Union delegates on January 13 took their campaign to Ford’s European Works Council in Cologne. There they set out the terms of their dispute with Ford to colleagues from Germany, Spain, France, Austria, Finland, Belgium and Portugal. The aim is to work out plans for supportive action by Ford’s European workers in the case of strike action in Britain. They point out that since Ford’s operation in Europe is highly integrated, they want to ensure that the European staff will not take on any work that would have been done in Britain.

Article Index


Workers’ Movement

 

News in Brief:

Workers Demonstrate at M&S over Job Losses

Marks & Spencer on January 12 released its trading figures which showed that sales were down on last year. Its figures showed that its clothing business was particularly hard hit.

On the same day, workers demonstrated at its head office against job losses.

Teachers Oppose Five-Term Year

Teachers warned on January 11 that they may take strike action against the proposal to move from a three-term to a five-term year. They point out that this would rob them of holidays, as it would mean the end of the six- or seven-week summer break which they sorely need.

NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) General Secretary Nigel de Gruchy said, "This would be the last straw, to impose this change on teachers on the back of successive changes in recent years, with no evidence that it would have any beneficial effect. We have already said that we would back teachers opposing this, up to strike action."

A spokeswoman for the NUT (National Union of Teachers) said that there was "no educational argument" for the proposals.

East Sussex Education Authority had planned to make the switch to a five-term year from September, but the plan was dropped after public consultation showed that 73 per cent of 23,000 people questioned were opposed.

A commission set up by the Local Government Association is to examine the potential impact of a five-term year on teacher stress, children’s learning and the transition from school to university.

Trains Delayed as Drivers Refuse to Work Overtime

On January 4, train drivers on Connex South Central began to refuse to work overtime, and the company on that day had to cancel 387 trains. ASLEF had originally threatened a work-to-rule before the holiday period, but it was blocked by a High Court injunction. The workers’ union said that no industrial action had been called and the train drivers were acting on their own initiative.

Connex drivers are calling for a cut in the working week to 35 hours and for all hours worked to count towards pensions.

Routes worst affected included lines along the Sussex coast, as well as a number of services into London. Connex South Central carries some 90,000 passengers into London on an average weekday.

Railway Workers Vote for Strike Action

Workers on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) voted in a postal ballot for strike action in pursuit of a 6% wage increase. The workers voted by a six-to-one majority to back the RMT leadership’s call in a 60% turnout announced on January 11. In doing so, the workers defied the threats of DLR to sack workers who supported industrial action.

The RMT executive immediately announced that unless the dispute is resolved "in full" by Monday, January 17, it will call a series of 24-hour strikes. The workers rejected a 3% offer put forward by DLR and demanded instead an increase of 6%.

The DLR line carries up to 120,000 people daily into the City of London. Gross profits have increased over the last year by 57.5% from £5.7 million to £8.97 million.

Dunlop to Cut 650 Jobs

The tyre monopoly Dunlop is to eliminate 650 jobs, or 38 per cent of the workforce, at its Birmingham plant. The Fort Dunlop site has been a landmark at Castle Bromwich outside Birmingham since 1917. The company is to end truck tyre production and mould manufacturing, blaming excess capacity in the European tyre-making industry. It will continue to produce car, light truck and motor cycle tyres. It currently employs 1,700 workers. A Dunlop spokesman said that to axe the jobs was necessary in order to ensure the firm remained competitive. The move to stop production of truck tyres in March is part of a Europe-wide "rationalisation process". The production of truck tyres will be moved to other plants in Germany, France and Britain. The tyre-mould operations will be moved to Luxembourg.

Dunlop is now a subsidiary of Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd, of Japan. In September last year, Sumitomo entered a series of joint ventures in North America, Europe and Japan with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Under the alliance, Goodyear is the dominant partner in North America and Europe. Goodyear indicated early on that the European venture, with a total of 14 plants, would require a "massive redeployment of our manufacturing base" in Europe.

Article Index


 

Flu Crisis:

North East:

Hospitals are having to convert some wards into temporary mortuaries to cope with the massive rise in the death rate, it is reported, most of them elderly patients who have died from flu and chest infections. The longest waiting period for funerals is at Newcastle’s West Road crematorium, where cremations are now being booked in with a 10-day waiting period. The waiting period in South Tyneside is around eight or nine days, compared with the normal two to three.

Northumbria Healthcare Trust re-opened a former spinal unit ward at Hexham General Hospital to serve as a mortuary, as well as converting accommodation at Wansbeck Hospital in Ashington, and North Tyneside General Hospital in North Shields.

South London:

St George’s Hospital, Tooting, in common with many, many other hospitals throughout the country, has been cancelling routine surgery in order to ensure that beds are available for people needing emergency treatment. Casualty units and ambulance services have been stretched to the limit. The A&E department at St George’s has been admitting 60 or more patients each day since the New Year. The 12 intensive care beds are full and have been throughout the winter period.

South Coast:

Hospital managers in Eastbourne and Hastings have had to use refrigerated lorries as temporary morgues.

Comment:

Dr Michael Goodman of the British Medical Association pointed out that the Department of Health’s 1997 document, Multiphase Contingency Plan for Pandemic Influenza, devoted only seven sentences of a 71-page document to hospital care. He said the underlying problem continues to be too few doctors, nurses and beds.

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