Year 2000 No.76, April 26, 2000

Rover and Ford:

Struggle of the Workers for their Rights to Be Guaranteed Must Continue

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Rover and Ford:
Struggle of the Workers for their Rights to Be Guaranteed Must Continue

MAY DAY 2000

For Your Information:
Kremlin Finds a Downing Street Ally

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Rover and Ford:

Struggle of the Workers for their Rights to Be Guaranteed Must Continue

With the expectation that Ford are to announce in mid-May that the Dagenham plant will cease all car assembly, 3,000 car workers’ jobs are further threatened in addition to the 10,000 already in jeopardy in the West Midlands, and the 1,500 jobs that were lost at Dagenham in February.

The news is that Tony Blair has held talks with the chief executive of the Ford monopoly in a bid to persuade him that the assembly lines will not be closed, and also that Stephen Byers is trying to persuade BMW to delay the sale of Rover to Alchemy beyond the Friday deadline so that the Phoenix bid can receive consideration.

Whether or not these politicians succeed in these reported assignments, the workers would be foolish to believe that this would be the end of the matter, that their livelihoods would be safe from then on. Indeed, what is being presented is of the nature of being the best of a bad job. The agenda of the bourgeoisie to make the maximum capitalist profit, to compete in the global market with a view to domination while the crisis of overproduction continues – this agenda will remain in place. If this is so, workers again will be relegated to a sideline role, where their views and interests count for nothing.

The demonstrations in Birmingham which involved workers from both Rover and Ford, as well as the broad masses of the people from the communities affected, have shown that the anger and discontent of the workers at the status quo are being turned into action. The workers are not content to be passive but their spirit is to fight against the bourgeoisie which is interested in exploiting their labour power to make the maximum profit and in devastating the whole of society so that it is their company and theirs alone which will become number one. This capitalists would very much appreciate it if the workers’ unions also had no role but to organise the workers to become partners in this aim.

This being the case, the workers must not fall into the trap of handing over the initiative just when their struggles are getting under way. The aim of these struggles is in essence that their right to a livelihood – which belongs to them by virtue of their being human, as well as being workers indispensable for producing the material blessings of society – should be recognised and guaranteed. The aim of the struggle against the devastation to the economy that the closure or downsizing of Rover and Ford Dagenham would bring is in essence that the well-being of the people must be given a public guarantee, that society should be actually responsible for the well-being of all its members.

It is the workers themselves who must set this agenda, who must take the initiative. They must discuss and elaborate on it, and deliberate on how such a programme can be brought about. They must seriously examine what it is that is blocking their advance, why it is that their experience is being continually dismissed as of no consequence.

If the workers persist in their struggles that their rights must be guaranteed and organise within this to give expression to their experience, then headway will definitely be made in preparing to transform society so that such crises as at Rover and Ford will become a thing of the past because the economy will serve the people’s interests.

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MAY DAY 2000

On Monday, May 1, a march is taking place from Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square. It assembles from 12 noon and moves off at 1.00 pm.

At Trafalgar Square, there will be a rally with advertised speakers from trade unions and international speakers.

The march is being called by the London May Day Organising Committee. The organisers give the call to organise for unity and solidarity, for trade union rights, for a people’s London, against racism and fascism, against globalised exploitation of people and environment, and against privatisation. Further details can be obtained by phoning 020 8558 6612.

Other demonstrations are also taking place. A global day of action is advertised under the slogan "Reclaim Our Lives!". It is scheduled to meet at Parliament Square at 11.00 am.

On Saturday, April 29, a May Day march and rally is taking place in Newcastle. It starts with a march at 11.00 am, assembling in Forth Street, and concludes with a rally in Exhibition Park, beginning at 12.30 pm. It is organised by the Tyne and Wear May Day Committee.

Merseyside TUC is organising a march on May 1. It assembles 11.45 am at Myrtle Parade and moves off at 12.15 pm. Further details can be obtained by phoning 0151 666 1999 or 0151 801 6324.

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For Your Information

Kremlin Finds a Downing Street Ally

The following article appeared in the Russia Journal of April 24. We are reprinting it to acquaint our readers of the analysis of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Britain from a Russian perspective.

President-elect Vladimir Putin has just made his first visit to the West as Russian head of state. The visit took him to London and to Minsk, Kiev and Sevastopol as well. The visit also took place before the inauguration, despite the fact that Putin had said he wouldn’t set foot out of Russia before officially taking office.

But the Kremlin considered that Putin’s convincing election victory allowed him to take the initiative and at the same time, to forge new relations in Europe and break down old stereotypes.

Russia’s main ally abroad is now London. Putin and high-ranking officials in his entourage consider British Prime Minister Tony Blair the most stable politician in the West – unlike French President Jacques Chirac or German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The Germans are having the hardest time in Moscow at the moment. This is not only because of Schroeder’s shaky situation, but also because of German businesses’ discontent and rather hard-line stance taken since they were dealt a blow by Russia’s 1998 financial crisis. Also, Germany has been more critical than other Western countries of Putin’s North Caucasus policies. Even more critical than the United States, which at the moment is not Russia’s favourite place.

U.S. leaders are, however, slowly beginning to give Putin more attention. U.S. President Bill Clinton announced that he will drop in on Russia on his way to a summit in Okinawa. But relations between Russia and Washington and between Russia and the West in general are in need of an intermediary.

The Kremlin decided that London will be this intermediary. In any case, after Blair’s unofficial visit to Putin in St. Petersburg before the elections, the new Russian president owed the English something in return. Both Putin and his entourage see things this way.

Putin received a hospitable welcome in London. Kremlin protocol officials and Russian delegation members said that they "had never found it so easy to work in the West as on this occasion with the British."

The British side had prepared a full-on programme for Putin and his wife. But the Russians decided to make the visit a strictly working one, hence Putin’s wife did not come along; and cultural events were restricted to a tour of London, though that didn’t take place in the end for lack of time.

Most of Putin’s time in London was spent in discussions with Blair. In public, the two leaders appeared to have complete mutual understanding and looked happy with each other. Blair was positively beaming as he played his role of Putin’s guide in the complex world of Western diplomacy.

Not even differences over Chechnya could dampen the friendly atmosphere of the visit. Blair was careful to point out that, while the United Kingdom did not like the war in Chechnya, a pragmatic approach to the issue was needed. "We mustn’t isolate Russia as some countries propose. On the contrary, we must engage Russia in dialogue," Blair said.

This made Putin happy. He made it clear that Russia is not going to go into self-isolation and is prepared to listen to the West if the West takes the road of negotiations rather than issuing ultimatums.

The earnestness with which Blair and Putin, both cunning diplomats, played along to each other didn’t go unnoticed. Observers noted that not only Russia wanted to show the changes in its foreign policy priorities, Britain did as well. The United Kingdom, it seems, has decided it’s time to step out from the shadows of the United States and Germany.

But beyond the excellent official reaction to Putin’s London visit was another, not-so-pleasant unofficial reaction.

No matter how impressive Putin was during the visit, no matter how elegantly he dressed, for Westerners he remains "a KGB agent" – and this lends a negative shade to their assessment.

Putin doesn’t like being called an "agent" and points out that his rank was higher than that. At one moment, his annoyance did spill over in London.

During a press conference, a British journalist didn’t hesitate to bring up Putin’s KGB past and linked it to his present policies in Chechnya.

Putin reacted sharply, raising his voice and explaining that the Russian army was fighting an international evil – terrorism – on its own territory. His words were eloquent, but the only ultimate effect was to demonstrate that Putin is not a fish and can feel strong emotion.

Putin didn’t manage to convince either Western or Russian journalists with his words. But perhaps by showing this kind of openness, he went some way toward breaking down the image of an "agent," creating instead the new image of a politician ready to continue liberal reforms in Russia despite the country’s domestic problems.

Putin tried to emphasise his ability to be at ease in high society when meeting with Queen Elizabeth II. Putin and the queen spent longer than the planned hour together over tea in Windsor palace’s oak hall. Their conversation was personal in nature. Just afterward, Putin talked happily about his meeting with the queen, like a little boy just stepped for a while into a fairy tale.

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