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The Demand Must Be Full Sovereignty for the Irish People
Students Lobby Parliament over Tuition Fees
No to British Interference in Kosova!
Fairness at Work White Paper
PROTEST MOVEMENT AGAINST CUTS IN EDUCATION
Teachers Set to Take Action
Wales: Lecturers Demonstrate against Cuts
South West London: Campaign to Save College
East London: Mass Student Occupation
FIDEL CASTRO'S VISIT TO SWITZERLAND
US Attempts to Internationalise Blockade Denounced
Speech delivered by Cuban President Fidel Castro
March for Social Justice
|TODAY the results of the referendum held yesterday in the north of Ireland on the Agreement reached at the multi-party talks on April 10 have been published. Seventy-one percent of the voters said Yes to the Agreement in a turnout of 81%. It is being said that this is just sufficient to make the Agreement workable, where below a 70% Yes vote would have put this in doubt. The proposals in the Agreement include the establishment of a devolved Assembly in Belfast with authority over matters now dealt with by the Northern Ireland Office, and with a built-in power-sharing mechanism operating on what the Agreement calls "a cross-community basis", referring to what it calls all sections of the community, "nationalist, unionist or other". Elections for this Assembly are proposed as early as June 25. The proposals also include a North-South Ministerial Council drawn from and answerable to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Irish Parliament, a British Irish Council (dubbed the "Council of the Isles") drawn from those two bodies as well as the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. In addition, the proposals include constitutional changes by which British legislation repeals the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and subsequent legislation and accepts a United Ireland with the consent of a majority in the north of Ireland. Irish legislation will no longer lay claim to the territory of the north-eastern six counties but will make a United Ireland an aspiration dependent on the same consent. Measures concerning rights, decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, policing and justice and release of prisoners are also included. Today also the results were published of the separate referendum held in the Republic of Ireland on accepting or rejecting a Bill of the Irish Parliament concerning the proposed changes to the Irish Constitution. Ninety-four percent of the voters said Yes in a turnout of 56%. Does the assent by the voters in north and south to this Agreement mean that a peaceful and lasting settlement has been reached for the future of the north of Ireland? Far from it. As it stands the Agreement institutionalises British jurisdiction over part of the territory of the Irish people. It also institutionalises the sectarian divisions resulting from centuries of foreign rule. Most importantly it does not address the crucial question of the sovereignty of the Irish people over their whole island and their right of national self-determination. It is an Agreement railroaded through mainly by the British government in the interests of English, US and other capital, with the most outrageous and brazen outside interference in the referendum campaign in the north, accompanied by the most scandalous blandishments and spurious promises by British and US leaders of future economic prosperity. However, there is no doubt that the Irish working class and people, and their political organisations such as Sinn Fein who uphold their interests, will use this occasion as a spur and a springboard to step up their struggle to realise their aspirations for an end to the partition of their country and for the vesting of full sovereignty over their whole territory in themselves. In solidarity with their fellow workers in Ireland and in their own interests, shoulder to shoulder with the Irish working people resident in Britain who militate in their ranks, the working class and all progressive people here in Britain can have no less a vision for the Irish as for themselves to constitute the working class as the nation so as to vest sovereignty in the people and realise the dream to build a bright future for the present and coming generations. The demand must be the complete end of British rule over part of Ireland and an end to British interference in the affairs of its people.|
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|HUNDREDS OF STUDENTS from all over the country lobbied parliament on May 13
in protest against plans to abolish student grants and introduce tuition fees.
Grants for new students will be reduced this year and abolished completely by
1999. In addition, commencing in the academic year beginning after the summer,
tuition fees of up to £1,000 are to be imposed on students. All this comes
on top of the introduction of student loans to replace maintenance grants, with
the effect that the average student debt is estimated to amount to £10,000
after a three-year degree course. As if this were not enough, a number of
university Vice-Chancellors have stated their intention to introduce
"top-up" fees. It should also be noted that since 1984, students have
lost their entitlement to travel costs, a Special Equipment Grant on certain
courses, Income Support and Housing Benefit, and access to a Vacation Hardship
Allowance. Mature students have also lost the Older Student's Allowance.
The Labour government promised to end student hardship through the introduction of a new system of student financial support. This is proving a cruel joke played against the students. Under the government's new funding arrangements, the figures indicate that students will receive a real terms increase from the level left by the Conservative government after years of cuts of just £8 a year in the new maintenance package of grants and loans. The proportion of grants in this package has been reduced by about a half from 1997/98 and the proportion which is merely a loan increased accordingly. From 1999 the grant element will be eliminated to make way for a new system of student loans. Parents of new students will be obliged to pay up to £1,000 per year in tuition fees according to their income. There are no loans available for tuition fees. The NUS estimates that universities will see a shortfall of as much as £31 million per year in unpaid tuition fees because parents cannot or will not pay. Fees must be paid upfront and are not repayable after graduation. Figures released by the Department of Education and Employment itself at the end of April predict a fall in student numbers, contrary to earlier promises to increase participation by 35% by the year 2002. Condemning this situation, the NUS National President-elect, Andrew Pakes, said: "The crisis of hardship on campus, of malnutrition, of students skipping lectures to work in burger bars and shops, of the heartbreak of dropping out altogether because of a lack of cash will not end with the government's new plans." He continued, "The government in opposition made much of the shame of student hardship so it would be disgraceful for them to ignore it now. It will be harder still for parents, who having paid tuition fees of up to £1,000 may not be able to afford to help out their student sons and daughters with extra cash for food, books or rent." Referring to the Teaching and Higher Education Bill, currently going through its committee stage in the Commons, Andrew Pakes stressed, "We are totally opposed to the new legislation, most of all for the introduction of tuition fees which we feel will cause damage to access and participation." He went on, "It is time for the government to give up on the legislation and rethink its financial arrangements for students. Their current legislation is riddled with anomalies and errors and it won't bring in the new cash desperately needed by universities and by students. Their plans for the future are no improvement on the past."
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|ON MAY 16, representatives of the so-called "Contact Group" countries, the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, met in Birmingham, one of a number of such meetings, and issued a statement on the situation in Kosova, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The statement welcomed the "face to face" talks, which have since been held between the Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and Ibrahim Rugova, one of the leaders of the Albanian population in Kosova, and announced that some sanctions against Yugoslavia would be lifted. At the same time, "serious concern" was expressed about "continuing violence on the ground", as it is reported that the Serbian army is still carrying out military operations against the Albanian population of Kosova and that fighting is even taking place on the outskirts of the capital Pristina. Since February, over 150 people have been killed in the region, as a consequence of the repression of the Serbian authorities and the resistance of the Albanian population. Some reports suggest that the Kosova Liberation Army, which is fighting for an independent Kosova, has now gained control of much of Kosova. The talks between Milosevic and Rugova are not only occurring in an atmosphere of violence and intimidation, but also as a consequence of the bullying and threats of the EU, the US and the Contact Group, which was first established to organise military interference in Bosnia. At earlier meetings, the Contact Group agreed to impose economic, military and other sanctions against the Belgrade government. In recent weeks a further investment ban was imposed when the Contact Group's deadline for talks had not been met, while the US sent two of its "special envoys" to intensify the pressure against Yugoslavia. Now the decision has been taken to lift some of these sanctions, while other measures will be reviewed at a later date. The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, on behalf of the European Union, also issued a statement welcoming the talks and applauding the use of such bullying tactics, which he claimed had created "this opportunity for constructive political dialogue". But the Contact Group and the major imperialist powers have no mandate to act in this manner, to issue such threats, or to make pronouncements about Kosova's future. The interference of the big powers in the Balkans has not in the past brought peace to that region and is not designed to do so in the future. On the contrary their interference, from the beginning of this century, has exacerbated national tensions and created a situation that they have exploited for their own strategic advantage. The current crisis has clearly allowed the US and others to step up their interference in the region, including the neighbouring countries of Albania and Macedonia, which have recently been visited by the French Foreign Minister. At the same time the imposition of sanctions has led to the involvement of other countries such as Japan and Canada. There is talk, emanating from various EU countries, of joint NATO exercises with Albania, in which British troops could become involved, and it is reported that the Albanian Prime Minister, Fatos Nano, has called for NATO troops to be deployed in the north of Albania, which borders Kosova. Proposals have reportedly been drawn up for between 7,000 and 20,000 soldiers to be sent to the border region. This would be a further very dangerous development. The talks between Milosevic and Rugova, carried out in such circumstances, have not led to a cessation of violence and have been criticised within Kosova, not least because Ibrahim Rugova has no mandate to speak for the Kosova Liberation Army. The actions of the Contact Group, of which Britain is a leading participant, are not designed to bring peace to the people of Kosova, nor to recognise their just national and social rights, nor those of other peoples of this region. This can only be brought about by ending foreign interference in the Balkans and leaving the people to settle their own affairs. All democratic people must demand that the big powers cease their intrigues in the region and oppose the moves to send NATO or other foreign troops, and demand that no British armed forces be sent to the region. The British working class and people must be very vigilant about the government's intentions in such matters, as its so-called "ethical foreign policy" becomes increasingly exposed.|
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|THE Fairness at Work White Paper was published by the government on May 21.
The promise of this legislation was one of the main pledges of New Labour's
election manifesto as regards the rights of workers.
The manifesto on which the Blair government was elected said that unions should
have the right to be recognised by companies if they won a majority in the
ballot of a workforce. However, the government as part of the anti-social
offensive it is carrying forward is proposing to go back on this commitment on
union recognition. The present White Paper proposes that not only must workers
win a majority in a ballot for recognition but in order for the union to be
recognised in a "bargaining unit", at least 40% of those eligible to
vote must support recognition. This requirement would make it very difficult
for workers to organise a union at the workplace and will also invite other
employers to derecognise existing union-organised workplaces. John Monks,
General Secretary of the TUC, commented on this situation after the recent
London Referendum, where only 24.6% of voters backed the London changes,
showing clearly that had the election been a trade union recognition ballot the
result would have been invalid. He said, "People at work will find it hard
to understand why they have to meet such a high threshold when major
constitutional changes can be approved on this far lower yes vote." It
might also be mentioned that in last year's so-called "Labour
landslide", where Labour had its biggest ever majority in a general
election, it received just over 31% support from those eligible to vote.
The proposals must be seen as part of the attack on workers getting organised to fight the anti-social offensive, and the insistence that instead workers should unite with their employers in the quest to make business successful, to make Britain competitive in the global market. This is explicitly spelled out in the White Paper as the framework in which the proposals are being put forward. Even the compromise of the TUC that 30% of those eligible to vote should be sufficient for union recognition does not satisfy the Labour government. Tony Blair's government continues to push the necessity for "social partnership", "a culture of partnership" between employers and employees, and so on. As part of leading the way out of the crisis, workers have to fight the anti-social offensive and fight for their own collective interests as well as the general interests of society. They must defeat the anti-social offensive which the Labour government has taken over from the Conservatives in implementing. In this context, workers have the right to organise as they see fit and as necessary in defence of their rights and interests, and reject the notion that what is fair at work must be judged on the criterion of maximising profits. Such a criterion, besides anything else, will not achieve the "fair and prosperous society based on a strong and competitive economy" that the White Paper seeks to bring about. But beyond this, the very title of "Fairness at Work" brings to mind the slogan that had become outdated for workers even in the 19th century: "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work." The limitation of such a slogan is that it denies to the working class its own aims and objectives, leaving them subservient to the operation of the laws of the capitalist system. The aspiration of the working class today is to raise itself to become the leading class of the nation, for it to constitute itself the nation. In this way, they will fulfil the demand that a livelihood be recognised as a human right and lead society in organising the economy to meet the people's needs.
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PROTEST MOVEMENT AGAINST CUTS IN EDUCATION
|SCHOOL TEACHERS are likely to step up action against their increased workloads after negotiations with the government broke down last week. Teachers from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) will intensify their campaign of non-cooperation and the prospect of teachers from the National Association of School Masters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) lifting similar action has now all but disappeared. Teachers from both unions will refuse to attend management meetings after school (or before school or during lunch time) and will boycott paperwork. From June 1, NUT members will be advised not to engage in collecting money, chasing absences, bulk photocopying, copy typing, the writing of standard letters, attendance analysis, copying out lists, preparing report sets and processing examination marks. David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, declared that the teachers' action will adversely affect school pupils, completely ignoring the deleterious affect that overwork, stress, non-teaching duties, and the lack of say of teachers in educating children, not to mention lack of resources, has been having on the education system. Teachers are constantly having to battle against such overwhelming odds. It is right and necessary that they should take a stand against such conditions. It is not the teachers who are the cause of the problems in primary and secondary education.|
|College lecturers confronted Welsh Office ministers in Swansea on May 14.
The lecturers were protesting about 8.7 per cent funding cuts. Scores of jobs
are under threat in colleges throughout Wales from September, and the lecturers
are demanding that the government should end the attacks on further education.
Labour MP Peter Hain, addressing a rally on the eve of the Wales Labour Party's
annual conference, admitted that if he were a lecturer rather than Welsh Office
Minister responsible for education he would have joined the protesters outside!
Peter Hain and Welsh Secretary Ron Davies were lobbied by members of the
National Association of Teachers in Further Education (NATFHE) from colleges
throughout South Wales, including Swansea, Gorseinon, Neath, Afan and
Carmarthen. Lecturers from Neath College were out in force protesting that its
£8.6million budget for the coming year was being cut by £700,000.
Branch chairman Nick Duncan, a lecturer in English, warned: ''There will be job losses in September. The only way you can save that money is to get rid of staff.'' Tom Jenkins, lecturer in sociology, said the Further Education Funding Council for Wales had cut resources to colleges by an average 8.7 per cent and that some colleges would be hit harder than others.
|Community groups are campaigning against the proposed closure of Lambeth College's West Norwood Centre in the summer. The Norwood Action Group (NAG), the Hainthorpe Residents Association and the West Norwood Community Development group are calling on the board of Lambeth College to reconsider its decision. The College is being forced to consider the closure in order to fund £3 million in cuts, rather than cutting back at its other sites in Brixton, Vauxhall and Clapham. This is not a choice it should have to make. Around 2,000 students attend the West Norwood Centre, about 200 from West Norwood itself. It provides a centre for learning in a part of South-West London that otherwise would suffer a shortage of such provision. NAG has launched a petition against the closure, and on May 13 held a public meeting in which the tremendous anger in the neighbourhood about the closure was expressed. Jane Pickard of NAG has pointed out: "The big question is, will the government put more money into further education? Even if it does, unfortunately the centre will be gone by then."|
|As many as 500 students are in occupation at the University of East London. They began their occupation on May 18 and are protesting against cuts amounting to £2.4 million. To meet the target of such cuts, the university management is planning to make 80 staff redundant, axe a number of courses, close the student health centre and cut back on library provision. Lecturers and staff are supporting the students, and lecturers have promised that no student will be penalised for any work handed in late for the duration of the occupation. Canteen workers are refusing to cross the picket lines.|
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FIDEL CASTRO'S VISIT TO SWITZERLAND
|FIDEL CASTRO RUZ, the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, and President of the Republic of Cuba, arrived back in Cuba on Friday, May 22, after an official visit to Geneva, Switzerland, where he participated in the events commemorating the 50th anniversaries of the World Health Organisation and the Multilateral Trade System, in addition to a wide range of other activities. During his visit, Castro denounced US attempts to maintain the principles of the Helms-Burton Act unaltered and to internationalise the blockade, which has cost Cuba 60 billion dollars. Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Castro said that the extraterritorial nature of the blockade has actually been in effect since long before the creation of Helms-Burton, because the US government prohibits US companies established in any other country from trading with Cuba. This practice, he maintained, violates the sovereignty of other countries and is extraterritorial. "There are plenty of reasons for the world to feel humiliated and concerned," he added, "and the WTO should be capable of preventing economic genocide." At the same time, he reiterated the statements he had made several days earlier, to the effect that any conflict between the United States and the European Union resulting from Helms-Burton must not be resolved at Cuba's expense, because this would be an unthinkable dishonour for Europe. In this sense, he qualified the agreements announced in London between the United States and the European Union regarding the Helms-Burton Act as "unclear, contradictory and threatening to many countries, as well as unethical". Castro stressed that Cuba has not been the only victim of this policy, and in this regard he recalled that "in the last few years, the United States has approved over 40 laws and executive decisions to apply unilateral economic sanctions against 75 countries representing 42% of the world population". Nevertheless, he continued, Washington achieved practically everything it desired with the agreements that led to the creation of the WTO, and in particular, with the General Agreement on Services and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. It has also achieved other highly beneficial agreements, and in addition, it has "the singular privilege of issuing the currency used for the majority of convertible currency reserves in central banks and deposits in commercial banks around the world". In his speech, Castro called on the developing nations to transform the World Trade Organisation into "an instrument in the struggle for a more just and better world". He pointed out that the United States and other wealthy countries have introduced new themes into the WTO's agenda which threaten to reduce the possibilities for developing nations to compete in conditions that are already difficult and unequal. "We developing nations cannot allow them to divide us. Unity is the only wealth we possess, the only guarantee for the defence of our legitimate aspirations," he declared. Today, he continued, those of us still suffering "the consequences of backwardness, poverty and underdevelopment constitute the majority within this organisation. Everyone has the right to a vote and no one has the right to veto. We must transform it into an instrument in the struggle for a more just and better world," Castro said. In contrast, Bill Clinton, in his 24-minute speech, obviously in praise of the capitalist system and the market economy that sustains it, extolled all of its "advantages" and described his suggestions for reinforcing the international financial structure so that capital markets expand, while the risks of world-wide economic instability are minimised. He called for a new view of trade and a modern WTO for the 21st century, based on such foundations as a more open world trade system, which would imply opening it to all countries. During his visit, Fidel Castro gave a speech at the 50th anniversary session of the WHO and participated in the closing ceremony when there was a presentation of the Sasawaka Award for Health to Roselyn Mokgantsho Mazibuko of South Africa; Ahmed Abdul Qadr Al-Ghassani of Oman; and the medical school in Gondar, Ethiopia. Castro's speech, which according to many media sources was the most applauded at the commemorative session, had a great impact on the delegations from the 191 countries participating in the WHO forum. See below for text.|
|Following is the text of the speech delivered by Cuban President Fidel Castro at the Palace of Nations in Geneva on the occasion of the presentation to him of the Health for All Medal by the World Health Organisation, Thursday, May 14, 1998. Your Excellencies, officials of the WHO, distinguished delegates. All praise to the World Health Organisation, which together with UNICEF, has helped to save the lives of hundreds of millions of children and millions of mothers, which has relieved the suffering and saved the lives of many more millions of human beings. These two institutions together with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Population Fund, UNESCO, and other organisations so bitterly opposed by those who would like to erase from the face of the earth the noble ideas which inspired the creation of the United Nations have made a decisive contribution to the establishment of a universal awareness of the serious problems of the world today and the great challenges which we have before us. According to the calculations of renowned economists, the world economy grew six-fold and the production of wealth and services grew from less than five trillion to more than twenty-nine trillion dollars between 1950 and 1997. Why then is it still the case that each year, 12 million children under five years of age die that is to say 33,000 per day of whom the overwhelming majority could be saved? Nowhere in the world, in no act of genocide, in no war, are so many people killed per minute, per hour and per day as those who are killed by hunger and poverty on our planet 53 years after the creation of the United Nations. The children who die and could be saved are almost 100% poor and of those who survive, we must ask why 500,000 are left blind every year for lack of a simple vitamin which costs less than a pack of cigarettes per year? Why are 200 million children under five years of age undernourished? Why are there 250 million children and adolescents working? Why do 110 million not attend primary school and 275 million fail to attend secondary school? Why do two million girls become prostitutes each year? Why in this world which already produces almost 30 trillion dollars worth of goods and services per year do one billion 300 million human beings live in absolute poverty, receiving less than a dollar a day when there are those who receive more than a million dollars a day? Why do 800 million lack the most basic health services? Why is it that of the 50 million people who die each year in the world, whether adults or children, 17 million that is approximately 50,000 per day die of infectious diseases which could almost all be cured or, even better, be prevented at a cost which is sometimes no more than one dollar per person? How much is a human life worth? What is the cost to humanity of the unjust and intolerable order which prevails in the world? 585,000 women died during pregnancy or in childbirth in 1996, 99% of them in the Third World, 70,000 due to abortions carried out in poor conditions, 69,000 of them in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Apart from the huge differences in the quality of life between rich and poor countries, people in rich countries live an average of 12 years longer than people in poor countries. And even within some nations, the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest is between 20 and 35 years. It is really sad to think that just in the area of maternal and post-natal services, in spite of the efforts of the WHO and UNICEF over the last 50 years, the number of deaths from lack of medical services has been 600 million children and 25 million mothers who could have survived. That would have required a more rational and more just world. In that same post-war period, in the area of military expenditure, 30 trillion dollars were spent. According to UN estimates, the cost of providing universal access to basic health care services would be 25 billion dollars per year just three percent of the 800 billion dollars which are currently devoted to military expenditure and this after the end of the Cold War. There is no let up in arms sales, which have the sole purpose of killing, while the medicines which should be provided to save lives become increasingly expensive. The market in medicines in 1995 reached 280 billion dollars. The developed countries, with 14.6% of the world's population 824 million inhabitants consume 82% of the medicines. The rest of the world 4 billion 815 million people consume only 18%. Prices of medicines are prohibitive for the Third World, where only the privileged sectors can afford them. The control of patents and markets by the large transnational companies enables them to raise those prices as much as ten times above their production costs. Some of the latest antibiotics are priced at 50 times their production cost. And the world's population continues to grow. We are now almost six billion and growing at a rate of 80 million per year. It took two million years to reach the first billion people, a hundred years to reach the second billion, and 11 years to reach the last billion. In 50 years, there will be four billion new inhabitants on the planet. Old illnesses have returned and new ones are appearing: AIDS, the Ebola virus, Anthrax, BSE or mad cow disease more than thirty according to the specialists. Either we defeat AIDS or AIDS will destroy many Third World countries. No poor person can pay the 10,000 dollars per person each year that current treatments cost which merely prolong life without actually curing the disease. The climate is changing. The seas and the atmosphere are heating up. The air and water are becoming contaminated. Soil is eroding, deserts are growing, forests are disappearing and water is becoming scarce. Who can save our species? The blind, uncontrollable law of the market? Neo-liberal globalisation, alone and for its own sake, like a cancer which devours human beings and destroys nature? That cannot be the way forward or at least it can only last for a brief period in history. The WHO is fighting heroically against these realities and it also has the duty of being optimistic. As a Cuban and a revolutionary, I share their optimism. With a current infant mortality rate of 7.2 per thousand live births during the first year; a doctor for every 176 inhabitants which is the highest level in the world and a life expectancy of more than 75 years of age, Cuba has fulfilled the WHO Health for All programme for the year 2000 since 1983 in spite of the cruel blockade it has suffered for almost 40 years, in spite of being a poor, Third World country. The attempt to commit genocide against our country has only made us redouble our efforts and increased our will to survive. The world can also fight and win. Thank you very much.|
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March for Social Justice
A second March for Social Justice takes place on Saturday, May 30. Assemble 12 noon, Thames Embankment, Temple tube. It is organised by the Merseyside Port Shop Stewards Committee. For further details, contact the London Support Group, 0181-442 0090.
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