Year 2000 No. 69, April 13, 2000

Condemn the Threats and Intimidation against Zimbabwe!

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Condemn the Threats and Intimidation against Zimbabwe!

Lecture on the Scratch Orchestra at Marx Memorial Library

UNISON Health Care Service Group Conference Opens

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Condemn the Threats and Intimidation against Zimbabwe!

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, is issuing threats against Zimbabwe, in the spirit of the 19th century colonialists, warning Robert Mugabe's government to behave, to "respect the rule of law". If the government of Zimbabwe were not to fall into line behind the British government's definition of the rule of law, then they would be taught a lesson: they will lose European aid.

The point at issue is being extended beyond the British demand that the seizing of farms from the large landowners for redistribution to landless Zimbabweans be ended. About 3,000 Zimbabwean veterans of the liberation struggle against colonial rule have occupied some 800 farms and demanded land redistribution. Now the issue is being made the demand that the Zimbabwe government hold what the Foreign Secretary, in conjunction with other European powers, are calling "free and fair" elections next month. This whole package termed "free and fair elections" is the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy that the Labour government insist represents the only form of democracy, universal democratic values.

Brazenly, the Foreign Secretary, speaking from the EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, wishes the government of Zimbabwe to accept foreign monitors, saying, "We are calling on the government to hold elections in May and to create conditions for those elections to be free and fair." The is the sinister demand that Britain, along with other big powers, can dictate to any other nation what political system it should take up, that these Anglo-American values and definitions of what constitutes democracy should be imposed universally.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Robin Cook made it clear that "Britain is leading the international demand that the government of Zimbabwe respect …" the right of the people of Zimbabwe to free and fair elections. This is both a political and an economic ultimatum. Britain has its long-standing colonial connections with Zimbabwe, and also the European Union is the biggest single "development partner" of Zimbabwe. The pretext for such ultimatums is that, in the words of Robin Cook, "we want to make sure that the development is carried out in the interests of the people". But if the people decide that their interests lie in a different path of development, then they will be punished by Britain and the European Union. The Conservative Party, in claiming that the Labour government should act more harshly, freeze President Mugabe's assets and press for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth, is playing the same game as the government, and - with such outrageous accusations as that 50,000 British passport holders are being threatened with "ethnic cleansing" - is providing a backdrop where Robin Cook can claim to be acting with moderation.

Robin Cook and the government must end their threats and blackmail against Zimbabwe and cease interfering in their affairs and those of the African people as a whole.

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Lecture on the Scratch Orchestra at Marx Memorial Library

"The Scratch Orchestra - from the margins to the mainstream" was the title of the paper given last Monday as the April contribution to the Marx Memorial Library Spring Lectures 2000. The speaker was Michael Chant of the Progressive Cultural Association.

Mr Chant's thought-provoking paper took as its central theme how cultural activists can today make their contribution to the movement to open the path to the progress of society. Within this context, the speaker examined the experience and the questions posed by the Scratch Orchestra, which, when formed in 1969, existed as an experimental music collective. However, the questing nature of the Orchestra, the questions it spontaneously posed to itself - especially the questions: what should our music be, whom should this music serve? - ensured that the Scratch Orchestra represented a turning point. It is how to take this path that the Orchestra embarked on to its logical conclusion today that provided the orientation for the lecture.

In the course of the paper, the speaker examined the necessity for everyone to contribute to the political renewal of society and the role of cultural activists in participating in this movement, and of the necessity for their culture to be consistent with this political aim. The speaker pointed out that the Orchestra had given rise to a trend that was represented today by the Progressive Cultural Association. The essence of this trend is the affirmation of the collective as the condition for the individual to also flourish and contribute their creative energies to the wellbeing of one and all. This trend is something which is new, which engages the human personality, which contributes to the movement for the emancipation of the entire humanity. This trend is consistent with a culture which is on the highroad of civilisation, and will find fulfilment when the broad masses of the people, who are now placed at the margins of society, once more take their place as the mainstream.

A lively question and answer session followed for over an hour, which illuminated and gave life to some of the points of the lecture.

In summing up, Mr Chant drew some of the threads of the discussion together, pointing out how the prevailing culture of the society places a block on people becoming political, and how the movement for progress can be served when politics and culture come together in an integral human person.

The lecture will be published at a future date.

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UNISON Health Care Service Group Conference Opens

This UNISON national conference opened in Harrogate yesterday. On the first day the conference debated health sector pay. There was also a well-attended focus group discussion to inform the debate later in the week on PFI. Before the close of business there was an extended briefing by the Service Group Executive for delegates on the "Agenda for Change", the stage of the national negotiations with the New Labour government on a new national pay structure which will replace the present national Whitley Council terms and conditions.

In the debate on pay, referring to the divisive pay offer to NHS staff, conference passed a motion that pointed out: "The decision by the government to break the equity clause is a clear indication of their intention to divide and undermine the unity of the NHS staff." The motion concluded by calling on the Service Group Executive "to abide by conference decisions". Another motion called on the negotiators to "base all their pay claims on the principle that all health workers must be treated equally".

Today the debate is on the "Agenda for Change" in the morning and "The New Partnership Agenda" in the afternoon. There are also keynote speakers John Denham, Minister of State for Health, and Rodney Bickerstaffe, General Secretary of UNISON.

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