Socialist Party | Print
BLAIR IS stepping in and taking 'personal control' of the foot and mouth crisis. It's belated recognition that the government's 'Operation Cobra' to eradicate foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a failure.
There has been a dramatic escalation of attempts to control foot and mouth, including using the army, but growing parts of the countryside are suffocating knee-deep in slaughtered animal carcasses. Yet, the disease shows no sign of abating.
The government hopes to be seen as acting decisively against the virus, to cover up their mounting embarrassment and proceed with a 3 May election.
But this is an increasingly high-risk strategy. Evidence is emerging that New Labour knew that pigswill could potentially carry foot and mouth disease over three years ago, but failed to act.
The government ignored a warning then by its own BSE advisory committee that a FMD outbreak could be caused by infected pigswill.
Yet, the Labour government seems only concerned with stemming the crisis in a way that protects big business and allows their May election plans. Small farmers are left to cope with rotting carcasses and mounting bills, while Blair's government fiddles as the countryside burns.
The 'firewall' slaughter policy is a consequence of New Labour protecting agribusiness's export trade profits.
Vaccination would stop FMD but this would halt the £570 million a year animal export trade. As deputy prime minister John Prescott blurted out: "Our top priority is to protect the farming industry."
But this protection costs us dearly. The total bill for the epidemic is expected to reach a staggering £9 billion. That's enough to end the underfunding crisis in many essential public services.
For four years the Labour government has spent less in percentage terms than the previous Tory government on public spending - a contributory factor in the rapid spread of FMD. Yet, they can find billions to hurriedly end this political crisis, hoping to win a hasty election before the economic and political climate worsens.
The Socialist Party wants to see the foot and mouth crisis ended speedily in a way that protects the health and safety and interests of working-class people throughout Britain, including many small farmers.
But whenever an election is called we intend to show that there is an alternative - a socialist alternative - to the growing sicknesses of Blair's beloved capitalist system.
AS WE go to press, London Underground (LUL) are attempting to stop the tube strike on 29 March. But rather than negotiate seriously, during earlier negotiations with rail union RMT, they threatened to take legal action against the union for their losses from the strike.
Whatever happens with these talks and threats, station staff, drivers and engineers on the tube have already shown their determination to fight for a safe underground system.
During the last strike, the majority of workers refused to back down in the face of a High Court judgement. Management weren't able to do anything about workers taking unofficial action, respecting picket lines and bringing the tube network almost to a standstill.
LUL claim to have settled the dispute with the other rail union, ASLEF but what is on offer would still mean privatisation. The proposed safety committee would not be able to function effectively alongside private firms with their many sub-contractors.
Disasters on the mainline railways, like those at Paddington and Hatfield have shown what happens when safety is sacrificed to big business profits.
Recent reports, including from the Health and Safety Executive, have exposed poor safety on the underground as it is. So any deal which falls short of keeping maintenance in-house with the current staffing levels under present terms and conditions is unacceptable and unsafe.
Indeed, massive public investment is needed immediately to bring the tube up to minimum acceptable safety levels. There is a potential disaster waiting to happen on the Underground, even without privatisation.
The new tube supremo, Kiley plans to cut maintenance jobs, so the best way to show him he can't get away with this is for a solid strike on 29 March.
IT WAS panic on the financial streets of London, New York, Tokyo, Paris and other world financial centres last week as stock markets went into simultaneous freefall.
Responding to the world's stock market jitters the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates by half a percent but it was not enough to reassure the frenzied financial markets.
Although 'bargain hunters' have temporarily rallied markets, the general pressure on share prices is downward.
At the same time Japan's central bank reduced interest rates to zero! This week the European Central bank is likely to follow suit and cut rates, all desperately designed to try and stimulate the ailing world economy.
Although capitalism's movers and shakers are still reluctant to admit it, the US recession has arrived on 'Main Street', as The Socialist warned it would earlier this year.
The facts and figures now describe the situation of a recession almost perfectly.
All the US stock markets are now in a Bear market - where share prices have fallen by 20% since their peak. In the case of the Nasdaq hi-tech shares market, the fall has been even greater.
This descent, which occurred relatively rapidly, has seen $10 trillion wiped off global share values - equivalent to the US's annual economic output and estimated to be five or six times as large as the losses suffered in the crash of 1987.
Nor is this just a destruction of paper money. Nearly 50% of US households had become dependant on share earnings to make up their growing income. Last year, because of the fall in share prices the net worth of US households fell for the first time in 55 years.
Also, US manufacturing output has fallen for five successive months. The technical definition of a recession is where there are two successive quarters of stagnant or falling economic output.
So-called emerging economies like Argentina and Turkey are lurching into deep crisis and Japan is enmeshed in a long-standing economic and political crisis.
The reason why last week's stock market panic escalated was because the evidence of how much closer a global economic plunge had become was now concrete.
The US and Japan, the world's two biggest economies, account for 46% of world output. If both are in recession simultaneously, this would be the first time it happened since 1974 - a year which saw the world economy enter a tailspin and provoked mass political upheavals in many parts of the world.
The US and Japan have suffered economic slowdowns since 1974 but while the US stagnated Japan 'boomed' and vice versa. One reason why the Japanese economy has not been engulfed in a deeper crisis in recent years was because the 'booming' US economy soaked up Japanese consumer goods. Now, neither country is likely to pull the other out of the mire.
Also, Europe is suffering a slowdown in growth. Even if it reached its projected economic growth of over 3% this year, that would have been insufficient to pull the US or Japan out of recession.
Indeed, the US boom was built on many of the same shaky foundations as the Japanese boom of the late-1980s which led to the country's decade-long stagnation, which now threatens to descend into slump. In both countries there seems to be a paralysis amongst the capitalist policy makers on how to avert a recession or slump.
In Japan so much public money has been spent to try and stimulate the economy that state debt now stands at over $6 trillion - 134% of economic output. Technically Japan is close to bankruptcy.
The idea that Europe is immune to US economic turbulence was disproved last week by the sharp drop in Europe's stock markets, This reflects the developing crisis in many of Europe's industries - especially the telecoms sector.
In turn, this can cause a massive contraction in government spending plans, such as Blair's limited post-election blueprint, and this will add a further twist to a deflationary spiral.
As in all economic crises, the world's capitalist classes attempt to make the workers pay. But workers did not enjoy the fruits of the 'joyless' boom of the 1990s and neither should we pay the price for the collapse of the bosses' failed economic system.
NEW LABOUR set their hearts on a 3 May general election over a year ago, but their chosen timetable is increasingly hard to stick to under the pressure of events.
Last week for the first time a majority in opinion polls (52%) thought it would be wrong for the government to proceed with a 3 May election. New Labour are no longer certain they can stick with their timetable. They must decide whether to call a 3 May election by 5 April.
Government scientists predict the virus will peak in May. The danger for Blair is that Labour will be seen as spending their time electioneering while the countryside plunges further into crisis.
New Labour's inner-circle are seriously considering putting the election off to June, possibly to 7 June. The crisis won't be over by then, but their spin-doctors hope that a month of supposedly combating foot and mouth, will help them turn to the election without being seen to put their own election plans first.
This is not risk-free - there's no reason to suppose that any of the problems of a May election will be solved by June.
Whenever the election, the Socialist Party will be fielding 14 candidates in England and Wales. We're taking part in the Socialist Alliance election campaign, which is fielding around 80 candidates.
In all our seats our election campaigns are already gathering widespread support. We're confident of winning the votes of many working-class people, despite the potential for many to abstain because of their disillusionment with capitalist politicians.
Nick Cohen wrote last week in The Observer on why fewer people bother to vote: "[The] idea that we're living in a bourgeois paradise won't work. Turnout is collapsing in the slums not the gentrified docklands. Large sections of the poor and the working class have concluded that no party will do much for them, and broadly, they're right."
Cohen fears a future where: "Politics will be about pleasing the corporations who fund parties and placating the comfortable half of the electorate which bothers to vote. The rest can be left to rot."
He correctly concludes that no mainstream parties offer anything for working-class people.
By standing Socialist Party candidates we're starting to offer an alternative that will assist working-class people in building their own party, which stands up for the millions instead of the millionaires.
THE TEACHER shortage has brought many schools near to breaking point. Many teachers now work on average a 52-hour week.
There aren't enough new teachers coming through the system. The government say teacher training applications have increased but a 23% rise in Physics applications across the country means just 22 people.
Officially there are 1,000 teacher vacancies in the London area alone! Union researchers reckon there are ten times that number.
There are also acute shortages in such areas as Leicester, Nottingham, Doncaster and Southampton.
After a joint ballot from teachers' unions NUT and NASUWT, we've been working to rule for a fortnight.
It's very minimal action, working to contracts which say we only have to cover for absences for up to three days. Some classes are being sent home.
The employers at first wanted to fine teachers but our strength and solidarity quickly made them about-turn.
Now the employers have written to the unions saying they can't break this deadlock while there's the "pressure" of our industrial action. But there would be even greater 'pressure' on teachers if we were to give up our action!
The leaders of the NUT, NASUWT and ATL want their union conferences this Easter all to discuss the same motion, calling for an inquiry into teachers' pay and conditions - a version of the McCrone report in Scotland.
The teachers' union leaders want to negotiate with the employers a new teachers' contract to present to the next government.
The scheme's fraught with traps. The Scottish deal has some good things in it but it's also got pitfalls.
The employers are talking vaguely about new 'flexibility' but seemingly the only concrete offer is the unworkable suggestion of paying us £20 an hour to cover for our colleagues.
We want to be paid well for the work we do, and we already work all the hours there are!
The union leaders should stand firm and keep up the action.
We should demand £2,000 a year for all with no strings and a 35-hour week.
THE GOVERNMENT'S 'Operation Cobra' policy to eradicate foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a failure. Parts of the countryside are knee-deep in slaughtered animal carcasses yet the disease shows no sign of diminishing.
What makes this political and social mess worse is that the government ignored a warning three years ago by its own BSE advisory committee that a FMD outbreak could be caused by infected pigswill.
But banning cheap pigswill containing animal products and switching to proper animal feed would have cut into the industry's profits. An embarrassed government is now considering a ban.
The 'firewall' slaughter policy results from New Labour protecting agribusiness's export trade profits. Vaccination would stop FMD but this would halt the £570 million a year animal export trade. As deputy prime minister John Prescott blurted out: "Our top priority is to protect the farming industry."
But this protection costs us dearly. The Independent on Sunday says: "Vaccination would mean the country lost one year of the exports; more likely it would be three months' worth, or £140 million. Even this is misleading because - as Dr Caroline Lucas, a Green MEP shows - exports in pork and lamb are almost balanced by imports, in what she calls a 'food swap'."
Years of cutbacks in resources, e.g. cuts in the number of vets, have made this disaster worse. Now the government is paying the price for its short-termism.
The total bill for the FMD epidemic is expected to reach a staggering £9 billion. That's enough to end the NHS's immediate underfunding crisis, with £2 billion spare for other essential public services.
THE REPORT on the cluster of vCJD cases in the Leicestershire village of Queniborough reinstates this killer disease - not foot and mouth - as the major health threat in Britain.
The drive to maximise profits in the food processing industry spread the BSE cattle disease. BSE then jumped the 'species barrier' to humans through food products causing the fatal vCJD.
For a decade, Tory ministers and top civil servants deliberately lied about the disease to protect the livestock industry's profits. Yet the Phillips report, commissioned by Labour into BSE, whitewashed former Tory governments.
Almost 100 people are known to have developed vCJD. Many microbiologists fear that the disease may have a very long incubation period so we could see the start of a much larger epidemic infecting thousands of people. BSE is still present in cattle herds.
The report says that the common factor amongst the Queniborough cluster was cross-contamination by butchers' knives of infected tissue with other cuts of meat.
However professor Richard Lacey, who first alerted people to the link between BSE and vCJD, said the report "... is just guesswork, speculation. The aim is to reassure, rather than to get at the truth. This has been the whole basis of CJD over 15 years - not to get at the truth but to reassure in the short term."
However distressing the mass slaughter of livestock may be, foot and mouth isn't a big threat to human health - BSE is. Capitalism and food safety don't mix.
CAPITALIST AGRICULTURE'S profit-driven industrial farming techniques and global markets cannot provide safe, wholesome food. Only a socialist programme can. This would include:
Nationalisation of the big agrichemical businesses, with land leased out on a secure basis to those prepared to work it - including groups of farm workers, existing tenants and small farmers.
A plan of sustainable food production drawn up between representatives of the farmworkers' unions, consumers and small farmers who actually work the land.
Bring the food processing industry and retail industry under democratic workers' control and management to ensure standards and make sure it operates within an overall plan to supply good quality cheap food to everyone.
THE LABOUR Party's 600-page policy 'war book' of advice to campaign organisers thinks that the issue of the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers could be vital during the election. The Socialist here answers some of the myths surrounding this issue.
Asylum-seekers are only entitled to 70% of income support while they wait for their case to be decided; all but £10 of it is paid in humiliating vouchers.
£18.95 vouchers + £10 cash
£26.54 vouchers + £10 cash
£47.37 vouchers + £10 cash
Britain is one of the hardest countries for asylum-seekers to get into in the world. For those that do manage, 70%-80% of asylum applications in Britain are refused. The rest get either refugee status or Exceptional Leave to Remain (EL, which is temporary and can be withdrawn at any time).
This is a government lie. Thousands of refugees who have been persecuted, imprisoned and tortured have their applications turned down for the most ridiculous reasons.
Ramin Khaleghi, an asylum-seeker from Iran, committed suicide earlier this year, days after his asylum application was refused, rather than be sent back to Iran.
He was a conscientious objector who was imprisoned for refusing to fight as a conscript in the army, then beaten and tortured in jail and forced to watch as his friends were executed. In prison, the guards smeared acid on his face because he had shaved off his beard (against Islamic custom in Iran).
It is common for asylum applicants who have false passports and immigration papers to be turned down by the Home Office for being "unreliable" because they entered Britain illegally.
Meanwhile, asylum-seekers with legal immigration documents are often turned down on the grounds that they wouldn't have been able to get a valid passport if they were "really" under threat. Refugees only seem to be considered "genuine" by the Home Office if they are dead.
Only 5% of the world's refugees attempt to enter Western Europe; the vast majority stay in the same part of the world as their country of origin.
There are seven million refugees in Africa. In 1998 Iran received 1.9 million refugees, Jordan 1.4 million and Pakistan 1.2 million. The United Nations estimates that there are also between 25 million and 30 million people displaced within their own countries. These people aren't counted as refugees.
Last year Britain had nearly 98,000 applications for asylum (up from 91,000 in 1999). In proportion to our population, Britain has a low number of asylum-seekers. At 1.66 applications per thousand inhabitants Britain ranks tenth in Europe.
In 1999 support for asylum-seekers cost £0.59 billion. The government is handing around £14 billion to big business every year in corporation tax cuts made in 1997.
The richest 1% of the population in Britain own almost 20% of the wealth while the bottom 50% own just 7%. Britain's wealthiest 1,000 people own more than £108 billion in assets. The wealth's there to support asylum-seekers and give everyone a good living standard - if it was redistributed as part of a socialist plan of production.
It's the way society is run, making the rich richer and the poor poorer, that we can't afford.
Denying asylum-seekers the right to housing wouldn't solve the housing crisis. Everyone, including asylum-seekers, should have the right to good, affordable housing.
The only way to achieve this is by putting resources into social housing: repairing and renovating existing council housing; stopping the privatisation of council homes; bringing back rent controls for private rented accommodation and a programme of building new homes to provide enough for all.
If the government can get away with attacking asylum-seekers' rights they will come for the rest of us next. The Tories scrapped benefits for 70% of asylum-seekers before they introduced the Job Seekers' Allowance - a scheme to force the unemployed off state benefits.
If New Labour aren't forced to scrap vouchers for asylum-seekers, it will be a matter of time before they try to introduce them for other claimants.
This government, just like the Tories, is attacking the rights we've won through centuries of struggle. Asylum-seekers are the thin end of the wedge, being used as a scapegoat for the cuts the government want to force through at our expense.
But who decides government policy? Not refugees or asylum-seekers: it's New Labour and big business who run the government.
Asylum-seekers are not allowed to work for the first six months of their application. After that they have the right to apply to the Home Office for a permit to work, which can be refused or removed at any time.
The refugee crisis is a worldwide problem, but the British government's policies have helped to make it much worse.
Neo-liberal (i.e. Thatcherite) policies forced on developing countries in return for trade; arms sales to dictators like Suharto in Indonesia that are subsidised with taxpayers' money; putting British business's profits above human lives e.g. in Nigeria: all these have worsened existing crises and increased the numbers of refugees.
It's wars, conflicts and repression that force refugees to leave their homes. The Socialist Party supports struggles of working-class people and other oppressed sections of society around the world that strive to end the misery and conflict of the global capitalist system.
We're campaigning to end the dictatorship of the market, which is the root of the refugee 'crisis'. Join us in our fight for a socialist world, run democratically for need and not for profits.
AS THE general election approaches, New Labour and the Tories are 'playing the race card'.
Despite the recent fighting in and around Kosova, Home Secretary Jack Straw is determined to deport Kosovan asylum seekers against their will.
Not wanting to be criticised by the Tories for being 'soft' on immigration, Straw is chartering aircraft to remove 30,000 asylum seekers by the end of the year.
According to The Independent: "The first time that immigrants have been forcibly moved out of Britain en masse by aircraft".
Meanwhile Tory leader William Hague is hiring East European actors to portary asylum seekers in a party political broadcast.
REFUGEES ARE people who have been forced to flee their home due to persecution, repression, civil war or disaster. The United Nations estimate there are 15 million refugees worldwide and 30 million people displaced within their own countries. Most refugees would like to return to their country of origin but cannot without risking imprisonment, persecution, torture or execution.
Asylum-seekers is a legal term for refugees who've applied for the right to asylum but haven't yet had a decision from the government. It takes over a year for an asylum claim to be processed in Britain.
ATTACKING ASYLUM-seekers' rights is no solution to the problems working-class people in Britain face. The Tories are trying to scare people into voting for them and New Labour are trying to use asylum-seekers as a scapegoat for their pro-big business policies.
We need jobs, homes and services, not lies about "bogus" asylum-seekers. There's enough wealth in Britain to provide decent living standards for everyone, including refugees. We need to build a united movement of working-class people to demand socialist policies like:
"I AM very, very puzzled, in this country they say I am not allowed to kill myself, but on the other hand they want to return me to people who will kill me. "
SHIRI HAD just discovered his appeal case for political asylum in Britain had been turned down. Very distressed, he threatened to take his own life. There was a four-hour siege by the police before Shiri was calmed down. He was then arrested.
Farrokh Shiri is at present in HMP Exeter, remanded until 20 April. Please write a letter of support to Farrokh Shiri, HMP Exeter, New North Road, Exeter, Devon EX4 4EX.
IN THE mid-1980s, led by Militant (now the Socialist Party), Liverpool's Labour city council forced a public debate on the £270 million slashed from their budget by the Tories between 1979 and 1983.
A determined campaign by the council, with active mass support from the population and important sections of the unions, forced Margaret Thatcher to back down temporarily.
The council secured 10,000 jobs, built homes and increased public services. Eventually the Labour Party right-wing succeeded in betraying their members in Liverpool and the councillors were undemocratically removed by the Tories. But the 5,400 homes built by the Militant-led council still stand today.
Socialist Party members and councillors are campaigning for local councils today to take the Liverpool road. Rather than doing the government's dirty work for them, local councils should set needs budgets in consultation with council workers, local residents and community groups and challenge the government to give the resources needed.
THE SOCIALIST Party's special drive for new members this month is going very well. Interest in our ideas and party are reaching new levels each week.
Our website has been receiving an average of 100 visits each day over the last month, with 185 being made on one day last week! Applications to join have come into our national office during the last week alone from Hove, Bristol, Hull, Loughborough, Midlothian, Doncaster and Bedford.
Liz, from Bristol, added the following comment to her request to join: "I've just turned 18 and so will be voting in this year's general election. I plan to stand as the Socialist Party candidate in my sixth form elections". Party members in Bristol have contacted her, and she will be attending their next branch meeting.
On top of these applications, during the last week we have received requests for more information from people in Rugby, Darwen, York, Carlisle, Somerset, Newport, Reigate, Swindon, Taunton, Middlesbrough and Lincoln.
All Socialist Party branches doing regular activity are reporting meeting people who are interested in joining. Lewisham branch has recruited five new members this month from their election canvassing, bringing their total this year so far to eight.
Our Merseyside branch has two new members so far this month, one is a UNISON trade union shop steward, involved in the strike action in Knowsley, and one a Sefton council tenant who met us through our involvement in a local campaign against the council's housing plans.
A Merseyside student who only joined us three months ago, Michael Brierley, has demonstrated that it doesn't necessarily take long to become a very effective party member; He was a platform speaker on behalf of our party at a Merseyside Socialist Alliance election rally last week.
Other branches that have done particularly well are Hackney, with three new members this month (two of them being UNISON shop stewards) bringing their total for the year so far to six, and Coventry, who have recruited eight.
Branches in Wales have also done well, with five new members this month so far. They include 17-year-old Nici, in Swansea, who already described herself as a 'revolutionary Marxist' before joining, and is now quickly getting involved in Socialist Party meetings and activities.
There is still a week left of our special March recruitment drive, so we urge all readers of The Socialist who are not yet members to consider joining us now, to actively help with the spreading of socialist ideas and building the forces of socialism. You can join here or by e-mailing us on: email@example.com.