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Year 2001 No. 74, April 27, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

Paying the Rich, Fending for Oneself, in the Name of Opportunity for All

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Paying the Rich, Fending for Oneself, in the Name of Opportunity for All

Comment:
Inquiry on Saddam Hussein -- A Marker for the International Criminal Court?

Iraq Accuses Britain and the US of Being Behind UN Report

WFTU Press Release:
European Regional Bureau of the WFTU Established in Athens

The World in Brief

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Paying the Rich, Fending for Oneself, in the Name of Opportunity for All

In launching a consultation document on "Savings and Assets for All" on April 26, Tony Blair put forward proposals combining the programme of paying the rich with that of withdrawing the responsibility of society to care for its members.

The proposal for so-called "baby bonds" – a "Child Trust Fund" – to be the centre-piece of Labour's manifesto, was combined with a proposal for a "Saving Gateway" account to ensure that "people are responsible for saving for their own and their children's future". The twin purposes are, firstly, for "every child in every family in every home across the country" to have a "sound financial platform" which can then be used to "help pay for lifelong learning, training, owning that first home, setting up a business". Secondly, for adults to be encouraged to "save for themselves to help ride out difficult times – losing a job or becoming ill, for example".

In the Child Trust Fund scheme, "at birth every single child in the country would receive a start to their savings – an endowment from the Government which would build up over time, with additional amounts paid as they grow up". Through the Saving Gateway scheme, the government proposes to "match savings – pound for pound" in order to reach out to "people who have had precious few incentives to save before".

The proposals are presented in terms of "dismantling the barriers which hold people back and prevent them fulfilling their potential", and the balancing of "rights and responsibilities", of "extending power, wealth and opportunity to the many, not just the few". However, the reality of the proposals is that they are a move to dismantle completely the welfare state, with its traditional notion of the "safety net". At the same time they will hand over vast sums of money directly from the Treasury to the financial institutions, as well as encouraging "parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends" to all "contribute to this fund – at birthday, at Christmas, at any time".

Both the Child Trust Fund and the Saving Gateway account are supposed to represent a further step on the road to the vision of Britain as a "real land of opportunity for all". This conception of a land of opportunity for all is that of a so-called "meritocracy". As Tony Blair says, the aim of the Child Trust Fund is to "encourage upward mobility". The picture is one of people standing on their own feet rather than relying on society if they lose their jobs or suffer ill health. However, this conception of a "meritocratic society" deliberately focuses on those who "merit" "upward mobility", and hence will benefit from this "sound financial platform". If some are to be upwardly mobile, it follows that correspondingly some are to be downwardly mobile, those who do not "merit" rising to the top. In these circumstances, Tony Blair’s strictures of government being able to "empower people to take greater responsibility for their own and their children’s future" apply. That is, the government, as the representative of society, is to take less responsibility. This is the hidden message of Tony Blair’s "savings and assets for all".

The message is one of attacking the very foundations of a modern society, where all its members are cared for as of right, where all are guaranteed a livelihood – food, clothing, shelter – and have the right to participate in governance. This would be an enlightened view. This conception is replaced by the crass notion of everyone growing up "knowing that they have a financial stake in society". Tony Blair seems to imagine he can bring about a society composed almost entirely of small investors, with a meritocracy who make it to the ranks of the financial oligarchy and their political and civic representatives, who reap the benefit of the billions stashed away by the government and the thrifty. It is Thatcher’s "people’s capitalism", or Heath’s "capitalism with a human face" all over again, but this time without even the "safety net" of the social welfare state. Blair’s stakeholder society will only help those who help themselves.

"Dismantling the barriers which hold people back and prevent them fulfilling their potential" means removing all fetters from the rich becoming richer, fulfilling their "financial stake" in society, while the masses of the people, who are supposed to feel fulfilled by this society because of their "financial stake", become further impoverished and insecure, and merely incidental to the rise of the meritocracy. Such a conception is consistent with, for example, the appointment of "people’s peers" to the House of Lords who represent precisely such a meritocracy, those who have made it to the ranks of the "great and the good".

Tony Blair’s constitutional reforms and his reforms for a society of "opportunity for all" are coming into sharper focus. The "dismantling the barriers" of which he boasts are in fact erecting the barriers to the progress of society. They are further putting into place the arrangements for a society in which "people", the "community", are alone responsible for their own and their children’s future, and in which they have a stake by virtue only of having been a channel for putting funds into the coffers of the financiers. These arrangements include finding yet more ways of handing over Treasury funds directly to these same financial institutions. Under these arrangements, people who experience "downward social mobility" would have no one to blame but themselves and their communities. The government will have fulfilled its "responsibility" of encouraging "self-help" and "mutual support". The whole programme is a broad programme to wreck society and impose values consistent with neo-liberal globalisation.

In these circumstances, it is imperative that the working class and people become active in defence of their rights, and organise on the basis that they will not allow this wrecking of the very basis of a modern society to be carried through. They must fight for the alternative of a society which truly allows people to fulfil their potential, allows the human person to flourish, because it recognises the rights of everyone in society because they are human beings. To fight against Tony Blair’s programme with this perspective means that the barriers to society’s progress will indeed begin to be dismantled, and all can take up their social responsibility in the true sense.

Article Index



Comment

Inquiry on Saddam Hussein -- A Marker for the International Criminal Court?

The Attorney General, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate a complaint against Saddam Hussein.

The Attorney General acted in response to a request from Indict, an international campaign to indict those it accuses of committing "war crimes" in Iraq. It said that Saddam Hussein and his foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, should be charged under the Taking of Hostages Act 1982, which has so-called universal jurisdiction. The case in question concerns more than 4,000 British citizens who were held in Iraq and Kuwait at the beginning of the Gulf War in 1990.

In a statement, the Attorney General said he would not launch an immediate prosecution because there was "currently no realistic prospect of a conviction". However, his statement said, "There is scope for further inquiries to be carried out and in the circumstances it is proper for the Attorney General to report the matter to the police, which he has done."

Scotland Yard sources indicated that officers would not spend too much time responding to the request. "The Attorney General is saving face by dumping this on the Yard. We will look at it and shove it back on the shelf pretty quickly," said one source.

This affair has come at a time when, not only is Britain isolated with the United States in its continuing violations of Iraq's sovereignty, but the International Criminal Court Bill is going through the House of Commons. This Bill would ratify Britain's signature to the Statute of an International Criminal Court which was adopted in Rome in July 1998. The Court will be established if 60 states ratify the Statute. The number of states which have committed themselves to ratification is 137, but the number which have actually ratified stands at around 30. Among those states not committed to ratification are China, India, Japan and Pakistan.

The danger with such a court is its manipulation by the big powers, particularly the United States, to indict the leaders of the states they label as "rogue", "dangerous" or "terrorist". The ICC would be able to try heads of state, as well as other individuals, for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

If such a court were properly constituted, as was the Nuremberg Tribunal set up to try the Nazis for their monstrous crimes, then it would undeniably be a step forward for progressive humanity. Such a court should also be able to try those who order or implement economic crimes amounting to genocide, such as the sanctions against Iraq.

In a situation, however, where the imperialists are trying to impose on the whole world their definition of democracy, against which the movement of the peoples of the world is daily growing, the conception of an International Criminal Court, for which the British government is particularly keen, must be viewed with caution. The British government gives itself the moral right to intervene wherever in the world it deems it is in its interests to do so, always emphasising the highest moral purpose in so doing. But who is to decide on the criteria for the role of international policeman, of international judge and jury? Who, for example, has given the British government the mandate to bomb Iraq? What mandate did it have in national or international law to bomb targets in the Balkans which resulted in the killing and injuring of ordinary people?

The mood of the peoples of the world is for the democratisation of international relations, yet US imperialism, backed by the British government, is heading in the direction of both imposing its own imperialist manifesto as representing universal values, as well as using threats, might and dictate to resolve issues of international affairs. These are the crimes against humanity which are the most heinous at the present time and which need to be decisively punished by the peoples of the world.

It is in this context that the Saddam Hussein hostage case has taken place. Is the government trying to lay down a marker for the conduct of the International Criminal Court? It is keeping itself at arms length from the details of the case, as it did with the case of the extradition of General Augusto Pinochet. Notably absent from its list of possible war criminals or those guilty of crimes against humanity are such figures as Ariel Sharon, or the government of Turkey under whose rule protesters are dying in taking a stand against torture. Most notably absent is any hint that US imperialist chieftain George W Bush or his predecessor fits the bill, or that those who are the lackeys of US imperialism should be considered accomplices.

The chief source of legislative authority must in the end be considered the insurgent people, who must be themselves the ones to ultimately decide who should be tried on charges of crimes against humanity, as on all questions affecting the future of society and of humankind.

Article Index



Iraq Accuses Britain and the US of Being Behind UN Report

Iraq has denounced a report produced by the UN Human Rights Commission, which accuses Iraq of violations and repression of rights. It has accused London and Washington of being behind the report. Thirty of the commission's 53 members, including the US and all 15 EU countries, voted in favour of the resolution. Three countries -- Algeria, Libya and Nigeria -- voted against.

A political commentator on Radio Baghdad said on April 25, "The United States and Great Britain are definitely behind this suspect report of the human rights commission adopted in Geneva." The radio report continued, "The American government is the last one to talk about human rights … because of the massacres which it continues to perpetrate against humanity. The United States has been responsible for the start of more than 160 wars and murderous conflict throughout the world since the Second World War. Rather than shed its tears over human rights in Iraq, Washington would do better to understand that it violates rights itself in the country by contributing to a real genocide by supporting the embargo against Baghdad."

Abdel Ghani Abdel Ghafour, a member of the Iraq government, called for the setting up of "a committee for the defence of minority rights in the United States". He was quoted by the INA news agency as saying, "Human rights commission in Arab countries should set up a humanitarian and judicial committee to defend human rights in the United, States, notably the black and Muslim minorities."

Article Index



WFTU Press Release:

European Regional Bureau of the WFTU Established in Athens

A European Meeting of regional affiliates of the WFTU and TUIs was held in Athens (Greece) on April 7 hosted by the All Workers Militant Front (PAME) of Greece. Delegations of eight organisations, representing a membership of 7.5 million, participated in the meeting. Attending on behalf of the WFTU Secretariat was Alexander Zharikov, WFTU General Secretary.

In accordance with the decisions of the 14th World Trade Union Congress to establish the European Regional Bureau of the WFTU, the meeting decided to situate this Bureau in Athens (Greece) and a Plan of Work for the year 2001 was also adopted.

The participants declared that the WFTU s European Bureau will cooperate with other trade unions, social, anti-war, ecological and radical movements within the workers organisations, in order to further develop the movement for workers rights, peace and disarmament, against the so-called "new world order" and exploitation. It was underlined that the Bureau will promote workers class struggle by undertaking initiatives and encouraging united actions of the working people against the attacks on them by the forces of Capital. It will develop a militant perspective by struggling against subordination to Big Capital.

PAME (Greece) was given the role of co-ordinator of Bureau activities.

DECLARATION AND APPEAL

The following declaration was unanimously adopted by the meeting:

Meeting in Greece on the initiative and invitation of PAME, for exchanging views on trade union priorities and tasks in Europe, the meeting of WFTU and TUI affiliates in Europe declares that the basic demands of the working people of this region remain unfulfilled as the European employers and governments are imposing policies which adversely affect workers interests. The situation demands more intensive efforts on the part of the trade unions to organise themselves and wage united struggle for a Europe of the people, as the radical and democratic movements demand.

The meeting calls for further enhancement of the role of the trade union movement in safeguarding the interests of the employees and to ensure that the economic and social policies are governed by democratic principles and implemented with the participation of the working people and their trade unions.

The meeting positively stands for a real Charter of Fundamental Rights in Europe, which will uphold the right of the working people and trade unions to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate levels and to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action. A real Charter has to take into account the demands of the working people, and generally, the people in Europe. The basic orientation of this Charter should be the respect of the gains of struggle and demands of the trade union movement existing in each European country.

The Charter should determine the legal guarantees which are indispensable to update the rights of trade union organisations. The Charter should thus become an instrument to implement the commitment to work towards full employment and other objectives adopted at the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD, 1995).

The patterns of collective bargaining and the constitution of the European Works Councils should be reflected by guaranteeing the right to collective bargaining and the right of trade unions to take militant action at the European level.

The meeting expressed its grave concern over the situation of workers and trade unions in Central and Eastern Europe where the reforms carried out in the last ten years have reduced the social gains and workers just demands and interests. As a result, unemployment has become rampant and real wages have declined. A significant section of the population has incomes below the subsistence minimum. Wages and pensions are not being paid regularly. Trade union rights and demands have been seriously curtailed and laws and collective agreements are not being implemented. Unions have been stripped of the rights they used to enjoy, such as the rights to legislative initiative, participation in management, health and safety control, administration of social insurance, etc. There have been several instances of interference by employers and governments in internal affairs of trade unions.

The meeting expresses its position for peace in the Balkans region, supporting the withdrawal of all foreign military forces and respect of borders. In the Balkans region where live a medley of people and nationalities, the danger of racism, of xenophobia and of neo-fascist concepts, must be confronted by the working class movement.

It also expresses the strong demand for an immediate withdrawal of all foreign military forces out of Cyprus and the application of all decisions and resolutions of the United Nations Organisation so that the problem of Cyprus will be solved peacefully with justice and reunification of the island, in the framework of an inter-communal, inter-regional confederal state with one sovereignty, one nationality and one solid international personality. Within this framework, during the next eight months, it was decided to organise an international trade union meeting where trade unions from Greece, Cyprus and Turkey will participate and having as a topic of discussion the Cyprus issue.

The meeting also expresses its solidarity with the developing countries which are under the control of the IMF, the WTO and other international organisations which impose their very hard and unfair terms on these countries.

The meeting declares that for the social rights in Europe, without being dominated by the policies of Multinational Companies, there should be assured, inter alia:

* Full and permanent employment for all;

* 35-hour working week (5 days and 7 hours per day);

* Transnational Trade Union Rights;

* The right to social protection for the excluded and immigrants;

* Pensions which will assure a life of dignity;

* Gender equality;

* Elimination of all forms of discrimination and racism;

* Public and free education for the children of the working class and immigrants;

* A full medical cover of populations;

* Public and Compulsory Social Security.

There is increasing concern all over Europe and other continents over the negative social consequences of the neo-liberal policies of globalisation the elimination of social gains, redeployment of enterprises, diminution of purchasing power of wages and the increase of unemployment, part-time work and the marginalisation of millions of workers as well as increasing poverty.

It is absolutely unacceptable that at the current high levels of industrial and technological development, which can assure a decent life for every citizen in Europe, there is so much unemployment, underemployment, poverty and misery. It is also tragic that allocations for social development are declining while the huge amounts devoted to armaments and armed forces are increasing rapidly.

It is also absolutely unacceptable that in many sectors and countries, the trade union movements are getting weakened because of the loss of jobs, the widespread introduction of individual contracts, part-time contracts and other irregular forms of employment as well as the refusal of many employers to recognise trade unions and the right to collective bargaining. The meeting demands that in order to correct this situation, there should be statutory safeguards through appropriate legal enactments. As the 14th World Trade Union Congress (New Delhi, March 2000) demanded, the employers and their companies in their annual reports should specifically provide information on the implementation of ILO conventions 87 and 98, as well as on the collective agreements signed at the enterprise and company levels.

Moreover, it is also essential that representation is given to all trade union organisations at the company and regional level, thus avoiding the prevailing practice of involving only a section of the trade union movement in the consultative bodies at the national, industrial and regional levels.

It is also important the fact that we do not consider ourselves isolated within Europe. We consider ourselves a part of the global struggle within the framework of the global front for the formation of a new global order without exploitation, with solidarity and equal relations with other peoples and militant trade union movements, respecting and applying the principles of the United Nations.

Keeping this in mind, the meeting decides to establish in Athens, the capital of Greece, a European regional office to co-ordinate the activities of the WFTU and TUIs in the region and to promote co-operation among trade union organisations in Europe and with national, regional and sub-regional trade union organisations, in order to intensify the common struggle and to achieve trade union objectives.

Article Index



The World in Brief

23-30 April LATVIA/USA: Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga visits Washington to discuss security issues, Latvia's membership of NATO and the EU.

25 Apr - 2 May MODOVA: IMF mission, led by Richard Haas of the IMF's European Department, visits to assess government efforts to bring about economic reform.

26-28 April RUSSIA: Egyptian President Husni Mubarak visits for talks with President Putin and Russian leaders on bilateral relations and ways to achieve a solution to the Middle East crisis.

2-4 May SWEDEN/KOREA: Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson visits North and South Korea, accompanied by EU high representative for common foreign and security policy Javier Solana, and EU Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chris Patten. Visiting Pyongyang 2-3 May for talks with Kim Jong Il, and Seoul 3-4 May for talks with Kim Dae Jung.

3 May BURKINA FASO: First international summit for access to generic HIV drugs.

3-6 May RUSSIA/INDIA: Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visits India. Discussions to include preparations for visit by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Moscow in late October, early November.

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