Year 2000 No. 66, April 10, 2000

South London Branch Begins Mass Distribution Campaign

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

South London Branch Begins Mass Distribution Campaign

Conference Attended by Workers and Other Sections of the People Opposes Anti-Social Offensive
Contributions by Delegates to Conference on Jobs and the Welfare State

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South London Branch Begins Mass Distribution Campaign

WDIE has received a report from the South London Branch of RCPB(ML) that it has begun its mass distribution campaign. This campaign is being begun in the context of the Party’s Millennium Project, a project to consolidate the Party as a mass communist party and to develop Workers’ Weekly as a mass paper of the working class.

As an initial step in the campaign, the South London Branch has restarted the work of selling in the community which it has carried in South London ever since Workers’ Weekly was first published in 1971. The Branch emphasises that this is a small first step in the mass campaign and that it is being carried out in conjunction with consolidating a regular readership. Of particular importance, the Branch reports, is obtaining the views and opinions of the people on the positions contained in the newspaper and their concerns, as well as organising a readers’ group to discuss the issues raised in Workers’ Weekly.

To advance this work, the South London Branch says, it plans to further discuss the aim of the work and to involve as far as possible the broad masses of the people in the campaign, especially women and youth. In this way, it says, the campaign will develop along the lines set out at the Party’s National Consultative Forum last year, which took a stand against the line that the issue in selling the paper was a matter of the arithmetical accumulation of contacts, but that it was one of putting organising and waging the class struggle in the first place. In further discussing the aim, the South London Branch will take into consideration the context of the Party’s Millennium Project. In this respect, discussion of the Party’s policy and plan is paramount. Although this is a small first step, by taking action the Branch is taking a stand against the liquidationist pressure.

Article Index


Conference Attended by Workers and Other Sections of the People Opposes Anti-Social Offensive

On Saturday, April 8, a conference convened by the Campaign Against Euro-Federalism (CAEF) on Jobs and the Welfare State was held at Carrs Lane Church Centre in Birmingham City Centre. Delegates were called together from various collectives representing pensioners, car workers, council housing organisers, disabled people, small businesses, health workers, educationalists, national minorities, students and individuals to develop their unity in the struggle to defend social programmes. Fifty-four people participated in the proceedings. Also, at this time in particular, in order to express solidarity with the Rover workers, the delegates came together to make a determined effort to help the success of the Rover workers prevent economic devastation of the Midlands.

Ron Dorman, national organiser of CAEF, opened the meeting from the chair saying he hoped that the spirit of the conference would be to unite in action around the aims of the conference, concentrating on the issues that confronted us. In the final analysis the contributions and discussion were held in an atmosphere of positive exchange and debate and the outcome of the conference over-fulfilling the expectations.

In the opening speech, the chair of the meeting pointed to the critical time for the manufacturing industry in the West Midlands. He indicated how the region could possibly become a manufacturing wasteland where the consequences could be, "soaring unemployment threatening the social fabric." He said, "Undoubtedly the fact that corporate capital is allowed to move capital in and out of Britain at will without considering the social consequences is a prime cause of the present situation."

On the EU, the chair pointed out, amongst other things, that Industry Secretary Stephen Byers had told us that the government couldn't go back to the days government would have a say in commercial decisions. The chair asked the rhetorical question, "why not?" before answering, "The answer is the rules of the EU single market do not allow it. This is why BMW is allowed to cut and run. But which is more important BMW and its shareholders or the people of the West Midlands? I will leave you to answer that question."

Another aspect of the equation Ron Dorman asked the conference to consider was the social partnership between employers and trade unions. He said that social partnership was the chief reason that the unions were not leading the mass pressure to save Rover and that the best speech last Saturday at the mass Rally came from Dr Carl Chinn and not a trade union leader. The chair of the conference stated categorically, "The social partnership must be broken in my opinion and we should discuss the best way to achieve that end."

The opening statement to the conference, written by John Boyd Secretary of CAEF, was delivered by Mike Clark, Executive Committee member. The statement pointed out that, like many parts of Britain, the Midlands is facing a series of large and small crises in different areas of life. Broadly speaking it is clear that recent and current governments are carrying out the same policies in regard to the welfare state and to employment, especially in manufacturing. A major factor, the statement said, behind these policies is Britain's 27-year membership of the European Community.

The statement pointed out that the government is shedding public sector services and handing them to private capital. Schemes like Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) and Private Public Partnerships (PPP) up and down Britain are being used to displace national and local government responsibility and the need for the state to resource them financially. Central government has reduced grants to local authorities who in turn are forced and encouraged to shed local public services and facilities. Cuts include library services, public toilet facilities, council housing residential homes and other facilities and services.

A major objective of economic and monetary union, the statement said, is to reduce social protection and welfare states to a minimum and even remove them altogether. For our government to prevent other Rover crises it needs to exercise powers to control the movement of private capital.

A number of delegates spoke against the effects of the anti-social offensive. A report of some of the points they made is printed below.

The second half of the meeting was opened up on the basis of the suggested charter for social rights. There was much discussion on the basis of unity of the various collectives gathered.

One person from the audience said that Rover is part of the overall social issue and social responsibility. The speaker said that the right to a livelihood becomes part of the overall social dimension. He pointed to the need for a mass movement around a charter, which encompassed all of the aspirations of the various collectives that had sent delegates to the conference. The speaker said that the opportunity had arisen, particularly around the politicisation of the people because of the massive demonstration last week, for a space for the people to operate. None of the political parties were acting in the people's interests.

The speaker said that the neo-liberal agenda was to go along with the global policy of the transnational and companies and big banks to pay the rich. The policy of Europe was no different from this agenda and had demanded cutbacks in social welfare and social programmes in order to finance the rich. He said that these programmes could be met because the workers, as always, produce the wealth of society. He pointed to the National Debt as an example of where money was going to and how the EU had demanded that debt interest should be paid by nation states as part of the currency convergence criteria. Since the 1600's the debt had risen from £1.2m to the present £400bn and this debt, he said, had been paid over and over again by the people. One way that this money could be used was by having a moratorium on the national debt and also money that is continually being paid into the EU could be used.

The speaker said that the Charter is a chance to go national and occupy the space for change offering an alternative to the neo-liberal strategy. He said we should stop paying the rich and invest in social programmes. Our Charter would be a way for the people to end their marginalisation, provide a voice where everyone could join in and change the political direction in society. This would give a definite alternative to the "Third Way" and "social partnership" ideas, which are being heavily criticised, both for their effect and credibility, in the face of the crisis we are in today.

The meeting debated the issues and made suggestions and changes to the Charter, voting on the points and unanimously accepting it was a whole. The Charter, which the conference proposed to launch, reads as follows:

"NATIONAL CHARTER FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE"

  • Support for the manufacturing base in Britain – Maximum support to maintain the Rover Longbridge plants and jobs
  • Opposition to the "social partnership" between workers and the transnational companies
  • Opposition to PFI in the NHS – A fully funded NHS – A free Health Service at the point of delivery
  • Maintaining properly publicly funded, publicly owned facilities for the elderly, mentally and physically disabled
  • Proper fully funded employment provision for disabled workers
  • Pensions providing a decent standard of living linked to average wage
  • Opposition to racism
  • Opposition to the movement of capital out of Britain where it is liable to cause devastation to the local community
  • Opposition to the EU currency convergence criteria
  • No Euro

West Midlands Correspondent

Article Index


Contributions by Delegates to Conference on Jobs and the Welfare State

Ursula Pierce from the South Birmingham Health Council, in her personal capacity, informed the conference of how the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) would affect the health service and what it meant for patient care. She said that private firms design, run and build hospitals. When built, the hospitals are leased back to the NHS over a projected period of 35-60 years. The new hospital to replace Selly Oak and the Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham will work out to be much more expensive to run. This includes money from the European Investment Bank.

Four years ago in Carlisle, she explained, by way of example, the estimated cost for their hospital was £40m and is now doubled to £87m. This clearly shows how PFI will make costs rise. It will mean higher costs and higher rents for the NHS she pointed out. In the case of the Birmingham University Trust, which runs the two hospitals, they will have to pay £30m each year in order to rent. They only pay £6m to the government each year at present and these are funds that can be recirculated into the NHS. Now, she continued, the cost of rent will be three to five times higher. Therefore the money will go straight into the pockets of shareholders of private firms and will be lost to the NHS. Surveying companies will jump onto the gravy train, observed Ursula, making huge profits estimated at 15 to 25 percent each year on investments. If there is a budget squeeze on the health service by future governments, rents will be protected showing that patient care will take second place to shareholders' profits. The government are saying that there will be no help towards the rents and will not invest in private hospitals. The result is obvious, she insisted, there will be smaller hospitals, beds are expected to drop by 30 percent according to the "National Bed Enquiry" and there will be staff reductions.

Edinburgh was Ursula's next example: there will be a loss of staff to the tune of 800 she pointed out, 45 doctors, 30 trained nurses and support staff. Private firms are not interested unless they can run private clinical services and not support services, which include catering, cleaning, telecommunications and portering. These tasks will be transferred to contract. New contracts will have to be signed with other parts of the private sector.

The future is one of "production line care" or what is known as a "revolving door" scenario. Older people are being discriminated against. More workload will be shifted to GPs and there is a chronic shortage of these in Birmingham and the Black Country. One third of GPs are due to retire in the next ten years. Patient charges will come in and there will be hotel charges, the poor will be left to recover at home.

Ursula analysed that the causes behind it are Maastricht, it has become central to European policy. There is no need for PFI because it only helps big business, the global financial institutions and the World Bank she insisted. The conclusion can only be that what is going on is undermining the NHS and the principle that healthcare should be "free at the point of delivery" and this happening when there has been no public debate on the future of the NHS in Britain.

Mark Oley, an AUT research officer, gave an informative account of the government strategy of "Partners for Progress". He outlined the history of collaborative policy, which included "New Realism" of the 1980s. He exposed the ideology of Tony Blair's "Third Way" politics, the main plank of New Labour's compromising social partnership policy. He pointed out that the leadership of the unions was a block to progress, as they are the main engine driving the social partnership.

Graham Fletcher from Residents Action Group for the Elderly (RAGE) was another delegate to the conference. He said that the privatising of old people's homes has been carried out under the pretext of saving money. He said, "We have taken the council to the High Court but we couldn't go forward because legal aid has been stopped." He said that local authorities have been driven by the New Labour government to constrain councils on spending. Graham was adamant that the fight was not going to stop and said, "We must stand up and say No!" He pointed out how people's money is being used to fight the legal cases of the authorities but people's money cannot be used to provide legal aid for the people themselves when they need it.

One woman delegate said that mental homes are going too and £650,000 has been spent on various infrastructural improvements to property while there are seven handicapped homes closing.

Charlie Denton from the pensioners' movement said that he had travelled down from Skelmersdale to the conference. He said that they were organising a pensioners' meeting there on April 28. Charlie is Regional Chairman of the "Pensioners' rights campaign in the North West". He outlined how the pensioners’ problem was very much linked to European policy and felt strongly that, "Pensioners conditions are being constrained as the welfare state is affected." He said that pensioners are an important force with 20 percent of the population. Pensions, he stated, are part of the same problem as everyone else is talking about. He said that the main principles were linked to living with dignity in old age he said that pensions should be linked to the average wage.

Dick Howell, a TGWU Shop Steward from the Rover Longbridge plant spoke and was well received by the delegates. He said that under the present conditions we could see the activities of the so-called European Works Councils. He said that Longbridge, Solihull, Cowley and Swindon had had Works Councils, for what they are worth, since BMW had purchased Rover. He said, "No-one was elected to go on these committees, no-one came to came to the shop stewards or the shop floor and asked which person do you think is best?" He said that the shop stewards objected to them and didn't want any truck with it. That was five and a half years ago.

Dick said that he now found himself in the present predicament after 31 years as a Longbridge worker and 25 years as a steward. He is now, as ever, trying to defend workers' jobs.

The agreement brought back was sold to stewards. It represented a longer working week with no extra money. "For 14 months we done it!" he said, but, "BMW dropped us like hot cake."

Dick said that he wanted to nail the lie about BMW losses. He pointed out that from 1996 there were supposed to have been £600m per year losses, £2,400m losses were the total in four years.

"Where has the money gone then?" asks Dick he explained, "The Freelander (4x4) was successfully launched and is showing profit. The revamped Discovery, which Alchemy is stealing, was re-developed with plenty of the cash, the R75 was developed with money as was the R75 and the R30 and also the R50 Mini."

"Where are your losses?" Dick is demanding on behalf of the workforce and says, "You cannot invest money and put it down as losses! It is investment! £40m was taken out our pension fund as part of the survival package too!" He stressed that Rover workers and stewards should keep the initiative in their own hands, maintaining their own agenda, and said, "The fightback started last Saturday, on the first of April!"

Les Woodward, a steward at the Swansea factory of Remploy, speaking in his personal capacity, talked about the origins of Remploy factories set up after the war to employ disabled workers. He said that the biggest factory was in Birmingham. Les said that Remploy had been under continuous attach since 1994. The £94.2m subsidy from the government had been frozen since 1994. Each government since has said that Remploy must employ more people. This is despite the maintenance of the subsidy at the present levels, which has increased the pressure. An 18 month campaign has been taken out and politicised the workers. There was a resolution passed in Manchester that any factory attacked would face united industrial action. MP's have been lobbied and a 24-hour vigil was placed outside the Houses of Parliament. Les pointed out that much of the work of Remploy is down to supplying Rover and there is an estimate of an immediate effect on the jobs of 250 disabled workers.

"In 2 or 3 moths now," Les said, "we will back on the campaign trail fighting the same government of today because they won't support disabled workers."

Les said that the £155m of new money is a drop in the ocean and asked the conference to take the issue of disabled back to the rest of the working class.

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