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BLAIR STILL seems hell-bent on holding the general election on 3 May. He's disregarding cries of anguish from farmers whose livestock are being slaughtered because of the foot and mouth disease crisis.
Blair hopes to hurry to the polls before foot and mouth escalates further and before British capitalism goes deeper into recesssion, causing a rash of redundancies.
Britain is in crisis and Blair is seen as fiddling while the country burns. But New Labour's not worried about the puny opposition from the Tories and Liberal Democrats, capitalist parties who only differ from New Labour on details.
However, opinion polls show overwhelmingly that people hate Labour policies such as privatisation, which is ruining public services and benefiting a few rich individuals while the rest suffer.
In a Guardian poll this week, 72% disapproved of the government's dangerous plans to privatise the air traffic control service. 76% thought the railways with their appalling safety record should be brought back into the public sector.
People were angry that privatisation widened the wealth gap, giving huge dollops of cream to the fat cats and low pay to vital public-service workers.
Some unions are taking action. London Underground workers have organised strike action against the sell-off of the tubes on 29 March. Many teachers are working to rule against the way that government neglect has caused massive shortages of teachers.
Blair's complacency can only be dented by real opposition on class lines. We need co-ordinated strike action against privatisation and potential privatisers. We also need a real political alternative to the lousy priorities of the capitalist system.
Socialist Party members are fighting the general election on a programme which includes renationalising all privatised industries under democratic working-class control and management. We say no compensation to the fat cats!
This would release money for massive investment in safety measures and service improvements and to pay public-sector workers a decent wage. If you agree with us, join the Socialist Party.
Socialist Party members are fighting the general election on a programme which includes:
STUDENTS IN all forms of education from schools to universities saw Gordon Brown's Budget pass them by. Yet again, Labour has failed to invest in the cash-starved education sector, failed to offer teachers the financial support they need and most crucially failed to address student poverty and debt.
Under New Labour, we've seen the disintegration of free education through the introduction of university tuition fees; next year's students will pay up to £1,075 for a year's teaching.
Labour eradicated the student grant, students must 'now survive on loans which takes them to an average debt of £6,000 on graduation at present.
As a further kick in the teeth, under-18s aren't even covered by the minimum wage, which was one of Labour's main selling points at the last election.
Labour's privatisation policies haven't stopped short of the education sector.
In Harlington community school in Hillingdon the Socialist Party is working with the campaign against canteen price rises since the private company Chartwells took over. in Waltham Forest we are involved in the campaign to stop the security company Group 4 from taking over the local education authority.
Blair's sole attempt at winning over students in time for the general election was through his promise not to introduce top-up fees if re-elected; at least in the next term of government.
University management, however, are enthusiastically pressing for top-up fees to allow them to charge what they want for a degree, pricing working-class students out of courses and professions such as medicine.
Recent estimates suggest fees could reach up to £12,000 if they are introduced. A generation of students who have seen the erosion of free education have given a cold response to Labour's cynical electioneering. Why should we place any faith in a party that has continued the Tories' policies of privatisation, cuts and the shifting of financial burden on to students' shoulders.
More and more students are joining the campaign -and going to demos and protests and refusing to pay their fees.
The Socialist Party is standing candidates in the coming general election to form a powerful opposition to the main capitalist parties, none of which are serious about winning back free education. We urge students to join Save Free Education in the campaign against fees and to join the Socialist Party to help us challenge New Labour at the election.
THE FIGHTING that raged between Albanian guerrillas and government troops last week showed once again that imperialism has no solution to the problems that beset the Balkans.
The guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (NLA) are accused by the Macedonian government of seeking a 'greater Albania', while the NLA, (formerly the Kosova Liberation Army - KLA), say they are fighting for equal rights.
The NLA is mobilising ethnic Albanians to join the fight. Many young Albanians in Tetovo complain of discrimination and support the guerrillas.
Meanwhile, thousands of Macedonian Slavs, the country's majority ethnic group, have demonstrated in the capital Skopje demanding to be armed against the rebels.
Macedonia emerged as an independent state in 1992 following the break-up of Yugoslavia. Around one-quarter of the population is ethnic Albanian and two-thirds are Slav. Its government is a shaky pro-capitalist coalition of the main Slav party VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Party for Albanians.
Former Liberal Party leader Paddy Ashdown, who is visiting the region, warned the conflict could "lead us to the wider Balkan war that everyone has feared".
The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI - the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated) opposed the NATO-imposed Balkans 'peace deal' in June 1999, saying:
"On the basis of capitalism there is no solution to the problems facing the working masses of the Balkans. Even if the Kosova issue is 'contained' for a temporary period, new areas of the Balkans are ready to explode. NATO's bloody attempt to firewall the Kosova national question has only exacerbated other flash points. Macedonia with its massively increased Albanian population and Slav majority, is a tinderbox.
"Outright civil war and break-up of the state is possible, dragging in other states like Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey."
LESS THAN two years after NATO's K-For troops occupied Kosova, the Western powers are increasingly bogged down in a political quagmire.
Hypocritically, during the war with Milosevic's Serbian regime, the KLA was a British SAS-trained, proxy NATO force fighting the Serbian army. Now the KLA and its NLA heirs are again seen in the West as a destabilising force. The prospect of self-determination for Kosovars in a NATO-run Kosova was an illusion. And, as we predicted, the realisation of this deceit would turn the KLA from NATO ally into foe.
Now, NATO has allowed Serbian troops to re-enter southern Kosova's 'buffer zone' to suppress NLA separatists.
The situation is increasingly seen as NATO's 'Balkan Ulster'; a reference to Northern Ireland in 1969 when British troops were initially welcomed as peacemakers by Catholics but who in a short time were seen as oppressors.
The Macedonian government is critical of the West for not sealing Kosova's southern border with its country - the NLA's military supplies come from across the border in Kosova. But K-For fears being sucked into fighting the NLA.
THE 'NATIONAL question' in the Balkans flows directly from capitalist restoration in Yugoslavia in the late 1980s. This led to a scramble for wealth and power by competing groups of former ruling Stalinist bureaucrats who used nationalism to maintain their privileged rule.
By dividing the working class they unleashed the nightmare of ethnic cleansing. Sections of Western imperialism, keen to re-establish markets and strategic control of the region, consciously assisted the break-up of Yugoslavia and unleashed the poisoned genie of nationalism.
A lasting resolution of the national question can only be brought about through a united working-class struggle.
Linking this struggle to the establishment of a voluntary socialist confederation of Balkan states would allow all peoples of the region to decide their future and guarantee their rights.
Then a socialist planned economy would release the resources to enable workers to plan society for the benefit of all and remove the poverty and scarcity that has allowed reactionary gangsters to whip up sectarian hatred.
TONY BLAIR's government is increasingly turning to desperate measures to eradicate foot and mouth disease (FMD) and allow their planned May election to proceed.
But now there is a backlash against the extreme measures the government is contemplating. Some farmers are threatening to stop culls of healthy animals by agriculture ministry officials in FMD-infected areas.
Government plans to dump animal carcasses in huge landfill sites have also been attacked as environmentally dangerous.
Environment minister Michael Meacher, in order to create an air of normality and to placate the tourist industry, said unaffected parts of the countryside were open to the public - it was 'business as usual'. He was then slapped down by his own ministry officials.
Meanwhile, the overall government bill in compensation to farmers and others could be a colossal £9 billion - almost twice as much as the BSE epidemic and possibly wrecking the government's public spending targets.
BUT THIS political crisis is a result of a food industry policy driven by capitalist agri-business interests. FMD is not a modern plague. Most adult animals recover.
Vaccination of herds could stop the disease. But the livestock industry has long insisted that governments pursue a disease-free policy to secure lucrative export markets.
By vaccinating, animals would carry FMD antibodies in their blood. At present there is no test to determine whether antibodies are the result of animals recovering from FMD or from being vaccinated.
But there is no research being conducted by the ministry of agriculture.
France for 30 years until 1991 regularly vaccinated animals. This policy was ended after pressure from the British Tory government. Now Britain's big farming interests have been hoist upon their own petard.
Yet, the mass slaughter policy could prove ineffective in eradicating the disease. A FMD epidemic in Taiwan in 1996 was initially dealt with by culling but after one-third of the pig population was slaughtered and the disease was not abating, vaccination was introduced. While the country lost its export markets it was nonetheless able to curtail the disease and certify meat products as disease free.
Clearly, New Labour has decided the capitalist interests of the livestock export trade which is costing us billions are more important than the interests of the public in securing safe, wholesome food.
SINCE NEW Labour were elected to office in 1997, they have consistently carried through policies against the interests of students. Foremost amongst their attacks have been the introduction of tuition fees and the abolition of the grant.
These attacks have driven thousands of students into poverty and hardship.
Despite this, the leadership of the National Union of Students (NUS) maintains a position of support for New Labour, while doing their utmost to hold back the movement amongst students against the government.
Socialist Party members are standing as Save Free Education candidates in the election to the NUS part-time NEC because students need representatives in NUS who will stand up and fight against New Labour's Tory policies.
They will be part of the challenge to the domination of NUS by New Labour and its allies at the annual NUS conference from 26-29 March, where delegates will have the opportunity to elect a new leadership.
The consequences of New Labour's hold over NUS are clear.
NUS have completely failed to mobilise a mass movement of students against fees and the abolition of the grant.
A call by NUS for students to build mass non-payment of the fees three years ago could have made the fees unworkable, forcing the government to back down and scrap fees.
The NUS leadership, however, have left thousands of students who cannot afford to pay their fees to fight to stay on their courses without the support of their union.
Many will have been forced to drop-out.
It is not suprising that the NUS leadership of the last few years has failed to defend students' interests.
There is a long list of previous presidents of NUS and national executive members who have used their positions as stepping stones to well-paid jobs, often in the Labour Party.
How can we expect a NUS that is led by New Labour allies of Tony Blair to do this?
However, the growing anger towards fees and the abolition of the grant did compel the leadership of NUS to call a national one-day shut-down at the beginning of March.
But the leadership of NUS completely failed to build it effectively.
It was left to genuine free education activists and socialists to organise action.
As long as New Labour and the right-wing lead the union, NUS-called action such as the shut-down will remain little more than token gestures.
NUS needs a leadership that is prepared to build action properly, not just as a one-off, but as part of a long-term strategy.
Even now prior to a mass movement taking off, New Labour are feeling the pressure.
The decision by the right-wing to stand Owain James, so-called 'independent' (Labour party member) last year, and again this year, demonstrates their fears that students will not vote for a New Labour candidate.
We aim to help make sure that these fears are realised.
The Socialist Party and Save Free Education are supporting the Left slate, 'United for Education, free and equal', as an alternative to the right wing in NUS conference elections.
However, the Left in NUS has to organise a genuinely open and democratic campaign in the universities and colleges.
Then it will be able to build on the growing radicalisation of students.
We do not believe that the current Left slate, a temporary electoral alliance drawn up in closed meetings, does this.
However, we will continue to build Socialist Student societies at universities across the country, in order to build a solid opposition to New Labour in universities, colleges and in the NUS.
Socialist Paul Hunt explains why he is standing.
"I HAVE established a record of consistently campaigning against tuition fees and the abolition of the grant at Coventry University over the two years I have been there.
I have been involved in building action, such as demonstrations and other protests against tuition fees and the abolition of the grant.
This has included defending Coventry students, who like myself are not able to pay their fees.
So far we have successfully stopped the university kicking students off their courses for non-payment.
The New Labour leadership of NUS support a party that has pushed thousands of students into poverty and denied many more their right to a free education.
NUS should support candidates at the general election that will represent students' interests.
It is vital that people are elected to the leadership of NUS, that are willing to stand up to Tony Blair and to his supporters inside NUS. If elected to the part-time NEC I will do this."
THE CHANGE in attitude towards scientists is shown by the arguments over BSE, Genetically Modified (GM) food, Depleted Uranium and the measles/mumps/rubella 'triple-m' vaccination.
Where once 'a scientists says' was taken as an impartial judgement, now even the most eminent scientist is greeted with a shrug and a cynical repeat of Mandy Rice Davies' "Well they would say that, wouldn't they?"
In general, scientists' response has been pained surprise and a reiteration of: "I'm a scientist, why don't you believe me?"
For example, eminent biologist Lewis Wolpert entered the argument over GM food strongly on the side of the GM food producers with what to him seemed crushing arguments. He said firstly, there was no evidence that such food had caused damage, and secondly GM disease-resistant rice could be made which could feed the world's starving.
WOLPERT'S FIRST argument turns on the question who provides the evidence? Evidence must be collected before it can be interpreted. But this collection must be done impartially without any bias.
Today, particularly after the BSE scandal, people just do not believe what 'experts' tell them is 'evidence'. The suspicion is always that something is being held back.
Certainly the vast majority of scientists see themselves as impartial. But science and scientists do not live in a vacuum.
To survive, a scientist needs a pay cheque. To do his or her job they need a laboratory and a grant to buy apparatus. If the money comes from some funding body, government or industrial, there is a great temptation not to rock the boat.
This can take the form of accepting without too much questioning just the evidence that government sources wish to give you and not pushing too hard to get information from sources that the government doesn't want you to examine.
For example, a committee of the Royal Society (Britain's premier scientific body) is producing a report on the effects of Depleted Uranium (DU). But the report will not consider the effect of DU on people in Iraq, because the British government does not want them to.
If eminent scientists preparing an 'impartial' report can disregard evidence in this way, how much worse is it for scientists dependent on finance from industry for their funding? If a researcher finds an unwelcome result, the temptation is to ignore it, just as it is for a junior accountant finding an expenses fiddle by management or a civil servant seeing a government minister bending the rules.
This is even more likely if opposition to the accepted situation could end in job difficulties or even being rubbished by spin-doctors and the media.
Of course there are brave whistleblowers in science as in other fields. In the case of BSE, a few scientists pointed out the dangers. As the report on the BSE epidemic showed, their work was ignored or distorted because it raised too many problems for the Ministry of Agriculture.
But this lack of confidence in published evidence produces great dangers. Cranks such as those who denied the link between HIV and AIDS can take in gullible people. Unfortunately people who are encouraged not to accept professional advice about the triple-m vaccination and who do not get their babies vaccinated, will expose them to greater dangers.
BUT EVEN more importantly, what topics are studied and what ignored? Today, the vast majority of research is done under contract either from government research councils or from private industry.
To put it baldly, the sort of research done is the sort the sponsors want.
Recently IBM presented a £2 million super-computer free to Warwick University. Why? Because the university produces the sort of graduates that IBM want for their research departments.
But to give a famous example, the World Wide Web was developed by Tim Berners Lee in his spare time while doing another job for a nuclear research institute.
Then big companies were hostile to his idea of an information network open to everyone, which they couldn't control.
Universities are now subject to the same commercial pressures. Their whole aim is to set up 'centres of excellence' - groups or departments that can attract big grants from industry or government.
Departments studying 'inconvenient' subjects, or subjects which don't attract funding are closed down, a job made much easier because most researchers are on two or three-year fixed-term contracts with minimal employment rights.
The idea of universities as oases of impartial unhurried study has long gone. Scientists themselves may choose what subject they study, in line with their personal views (see box) but only within the limits of funding.
The most blatant examples are in the pharmaceutical industry. Millions of pounds are available for researching on a drug like Ritalin that could sell millions (or even better a drug that has the same effect as Ritalin that does not infringe the patents of Ritalin's owners).
But only pennies are available for researching alternative non-chemical treatments for the symptoms of children with some behaviour disorders, for which Ritalin is prescribed.
BUT WHAT about the other part of Wolpert's argument, that scientific advances could produce rice strains that could end world starvation? The obvious question is who is funding these scientific advances? And what do they want to get out of them?
Last month the biotechnology company Syngenta announced that it had finished mapping the gene sequence of rice. This would enable the company to develop GM rice. But producing a 'map' of the genetic code of rice enables a company to take out a patent on that code.
Already 229 patents on rice have been taken out by the five biggest GM crop companies. One, RiceTec has a patent on Basmati rice (a very common variety in India) which is being challenged by the Indian government.
A patent means that the firm can charge royalties to any farmer using that species of rice.
Although Syngenta has pledged that it will provide information and technology free to poor farmers, patents remain in force while company policy and ownership can change.
When he closed Llanwern steelworks, the Chief Executive of CORUS spelled it out: "I'm in business to make money, not steel." Similarly, Sygenta are in business to make money, not feed the hungry.
And any genetic modification research they fund will be aiming at the bottom line, to defeat their competitors, to make farmers dependent on their fertilisers and pesticides and on coming back to buy their seeds.
And it is the same story in all other areas of science application. Motor manufacturers continue to concentrate research on inefficient, polluting petrol engines, rather than alternatives such as fuel cell technology.
For every penny spent on research into alternative sources of energy a hundred pounds is spent on armaments research.
IN ONE vital sense, Wolpert is 100% correct. Genetic modification could produce crops to banish starvation. Medical research could provide cures for most known diseases. Non-polluting energy sources could be developed.
But none of this will happen while the decision as to what research is to be done, and what results are to be published rests directly or indirectly in the hands of big business.
Socialists are right to be wary of pronouncements of 'experts' funded by big business. But we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Modern science could make a start at solving all the problems facing the planet. But it will not while its direction is in the hands of the huge corporations and their megarich owners.
Scientists in research laboratories are normal people. Mostly they would far prefer to be working to feed the hungry, heal the sick and reduce pollution. But to do that, there would have to be a massive change in the way science is funded.
For a start, nationalisation of the big drug companies under working-class control and management, would enable an immediate switch in the direction of pharmaceutical research. This would paradoxically provide more money, as drug companies spend far more on advertising themselves than they do on research.
At present, government grants for research are awarded by scientific research councils. Their funding could be massively increased by cutting defence research funding, which is mostly wasted, anyway.
Today these councils are 'old pals clubs' of the great and the good. They must be opened to democratic control and guidance.
But for socialists, removing the private ownership of the means of production and establishing a democratic socialist plan of production could ensure the full potential of science could benefit all humanity
Some Nobel Prize-winning physicists and the development of nuclear weapons.
JOSEPH ROTBLATT Worked on the original atomic bomb project. In 1944 was told by the head of the project "You realise of course that the real reason for making this bomb is to subdue our chief enemy - the USSR". Immediately withdrew from the project and spend the rest of his life working on the medical aspects of nuclear physics.
ANDRE SACHAROV 'Father of the Russian H-Bomb'. Saw it necessary for the USSR to have its own H-bombs as defence against the USA. Later, a leading protester against the undemocratic regime of the Soviet Union and was exiled to Siberia.
And The Scientific Mercenary: