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PRIVATE FINANCE Initiative (PFI) deals have always been extremely profitable for private contractors. But recent reports show what a bad deal it's been for public services such as the NHS and how much greedy private companies use it to fill up their coffers.
Look at hospital building. The Norfolk and Norwich (N&N) Hospital was rebuilt under the PFI. It was supposed to cost £229 million but the full price has now been calculated at £1.16 billion over the 35 years of N&N's contract with private consortium Octagon Healthcare.
Stories like this have convinced the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) that PFI schemes cost health trusts more than any other former government schemes. The ACCA report looked into N&N and 12 other hospitals.
Now the National Audit Office (NAO) want to look more closely at how many PFI projects are being sold off between contractors, yielding huge profits.
PFI schemes worth a capital value of £32 billion are now up and running and PFI investments worth some £700 million have been bought and sold since 1999, mostly over the past two years. All this profit goes to the fat-cat capitalists while the public sector - the source of these profits - gets nothing except their old rip-off deal.
The NAO suggests some form of windfall tax on such profits. But the government disagrees with even this minor palliative. New Labour say that PFI is the only show in town - that there is no alternative.
Unions in the NHS and other public services must fight for the abolition of the PFI and similar privatisation methods. We need public services fully funded from taxation that can provide good quality care to everyone.
These new reports show that the NHS would save enormous sums of money by ditching PFI, and ending the building contractors' profiteering. We should make sure that the PFI profiteers pay for the growing funding problems of the NHS, not the patients and staff who carry the can at present.
CHANCELLOR GORDON Brown's pre-budget statement will probably be the last before the expected general election in May. This could come just in time for the New Labour government as they will have to face some unpalatable economic and financial truths if they are to retain the confidence of big business and the capitalist markets.
More and more capitalists and their hired commentators are screeching about the rising deficit in the government's finances. They demand measures that will regain their trust: either tax rises (but not on big business or the rich) or cuts in public expenditure, and preferably both.
They talk as if this New Labour government had not been compliant in carrying out the wishes of the capitalists! Blair, Brown and the rest of the government have done the bosses' bidding. There has been hardly any legislation in favour of workers or trade unions in eight years of New Labour government.
We still have the Tories' trade union laws, a measly minimum wage, no legislation likely on corporate killing despite in being in Labour's 1997 election manifesto and over 100,000 civil servants facing redundancy!
But for the bosses, there is cause for concern. In March, the Treasury forecast the budget deficit (the shortfall in government income after public expenditure) to halve this financial year from last. In fact it continues to rise, and could overshoot the forecast by as much as £12 billion. The chancellor's 'golden rule', where only government investment is covered over the period of a full economic cycle by borrowing, is also likely to be broken, with a so-called 'black hole' of £10 billion to find.
PART OF the deficit in the finances is due to a slowdown in income of the big companies, allowing them to pay even less Corporation Tax as a result, despite the many tax loopholes found by advisers and accountants.
But offset against this is the bonanza for the oil companies with a barrel of oil up around the $50 a barrel mark. The chancellor is hoping for a small windfall from this sector in the second half of the financial year.
Of course, the chancellor could cook the books or fiddle the figures but that won't be anything more than a quick fix for the finances and the economy as a whole until after the election.
The effect of the succession of rises in interest rates has been to reduce the amount of money consumers have to spend and, on top of that, make them psychologically wary of the future, adding a further downswing to the economy.
Exports to the US and dollar-linked economies are being choked off because of the rise in sterling against the dollar, while the rise in the euro's strength is choking the economies in Europe, Britain's main export area. In fact, if it wasn't for the investment in education and the NHS, growth in the economy would be next to zero!
The chancellor is keeping the economy from bumping along the bottom of the seabed.
In reality, the chancellor is giving us very little, while the threats are to take a lot away the day after the general election.
The Tories promise misery for millions to finance tax cuts for big business; the Liberal Democrats would, if sharing power, propose austerity measures too.
The working class and the trade unions as a whole must now prepare to fight the attacks which will surely come from whatever government is elected.
This means not just industrial action but withdrawing all funding and support from New Labour and instead financing a new workers party which can truly represent workers' interests.
IT WAS 'black Wednesday' for the health service in Wales on 24 November. The New Labour-dominated Welsh Assembly government announced the effective closure of the paediatric neurosurgery unit at Swansea's Morriston hospital.
Despite huge anger by local people, including 17,000 signing a petition organised by a local paper, the children who need to use the brain surgery unit will have to transfer to Cardiff, where the service will be centralised.
The Wales BMA recently lashed out at the Assembly for presiding over the longest hospital waiting lists in Britain - over 300,000, one in 12 Welsh people are now on a waiting list. In Swansea, the figure is actually closer to one in five!
Health Minster Jane Hutt survived a 'no-confidence' motion in the Assembly this week but for working-class people, nothing is safe in the hands of New Labour.
The neurosurgery 'downgrade' is the latest in a whole raft of similar cuts over the last few years. Casualty units in Llanelli and Neath/ Port Talbot hospitals have been downgraded so the area's main A&E in Morriston now has an average waiting time of six hours. Earlier this year, some pensioners had to wait on trolleys for four days before a proper bed could be found!
Socialist Party members in Swansea have been fighting attempts to further downgrade the casualty unit at the city's other hospital, Singleton.
We also played a leading role in the campaign to stop the Neath/Port Talbot hospital having its maternity unit downgraded. Unfortunately, the number of births there will be almost halved by the cuts and mothers and babies could be put at risk by the new mantra of centralisation.
In New Labour's NHS, you can't expect your local hospital to have full services. However, for specialised services in particular, you might have to go to the other end of Wales or even into England.
Morriston's burns unit, which saved the lives of Port Talbot steelworkers after the 2001 blast furnace accident, is 'competing' with Bristol. Such relentless rationalisation from a government which has no qualms about spending £4 million a day in Iraq!
Some in New Labour hold up NHS 'successes' in England as proof that Welsh Labour has to follow a faster road to privatisation to find a cure to this disaster.
However, the reality for working-class people in England is the same queues, cuts and crises. Health provision should be on the basis of need not profit.
Through reversing the PFIs, PPs, foundation hospitals etc, alongside nationalising the huge pharmaceutical companies, the NHS could begin to be transformed from the milch-cow of the private sectors into a well-researched essential service.
New Labour believe this law and order card will win them support from so-called 'middle England', cutting the possibility of a Tory recovery; and also from working-class Labour voters who are threatening to abandon the party.
Like Bush's Republicans in the US, Labour's leadership believe their best chance of being re-elected is to play on people's fears and try to push the issues of jobs, crumbling public services, privatisation and living standards to the side.
But these laws won't provide better security for Britain's population. Instead they dramatically reduce our democratic rights, giving the government and police sweeping new powers and providing even less accountability to the public.
New Labour's proposals are a charter for abuses of power by government and police. They will allow the rich and powerful, including big companies, even more freedom to do what they like without worrying about protests or campaigns from their workforce or the local community.
IMAGINE YOUR local hospital is being shut down and you want to organise a campaign against it. You get your mates, co-workers and fellow trade unionists together to do some leafleting in your neighbourhood's shopping centre to get more people involved and set the campaign rolling.
Some of your colleagues brought their kids along, the shoppers are interested in what you're saying. There is a relaxed atmosphere on a Saturday morning. Then, out of the blue, the police appear.
They say "you're behaving in an anti-social manner," and apparently you're intimidating the shoppers. So you'll be banned from the shopping centre for the next 24 hours.
And don't even think about coming back an hour later to do your shopping. This would be a violation of the law and you could end up in prison for up to five years. Congratulations, you have just been ASBO'd.
An ASBO, short for Anti-Social Behaviour Order, is the newest buzz-word from Tony Blair's governmental machine.
According to a press statement from the Home Office from 31 October, it is all part of a "fight back" in the communities. They say an ASBO can be issued "to disperse intimidating gangs who may be out on the streets threatening local people, with police powers to take home any young people out and about after 9pm".
The government claims that ASBOs are a great tool to stop youth crime but there is no evidence to back this up. Greater Manchester tops the list with 422 ASBOs being issued since 1999 - the percentage being issued in the same area is up 232% since 31 March 2003.
The Socialist Party is currently campaigning for more and better youth facilities in Wythenshawe, Manchester. "There is nothing for us here, and what we got is crap," a local young teenager told me. In fact, the area only has two youth clubs for 8.000 young people.
Public and green spaces have slowly been eroded so it's no wonder that young people are hanging about on street corners being bored. It will take strong community campaigns - against the same government that is currently introducing the ASBOS - in order to get the services ordinary people deserve.
THAT'S WHERE a crucial point of the ASBOs comes in. ASBOs are already being used against a number of campaigning organisations. On 26 August for example, two women were given an ASBO for peacefully handing out leaflets against a major arms company in Richmond town centre.
During the firefighters' dispute, some firefighters went into town centres to collect money for their strike fund and to tell local people about their struggle. Under the definition of "dispersing intimidating gangs" you can easily imagine ASBOs being issued against campaigning trade unionists in the future.
At this year's TUC, Tony Blair told trade unionists that secondary picketing and solidarity action should be considered a thing of the past. There is a bitter legal reality behind Tony Blair's smiling face and ASBOs are a part of it.
ASBOs are also being used against animal rights campaigners protesting outside managers of Huntington Life Sciences, a company conducting experiments on animals. ASBOs are used in this context to "stop individuals from being terrorised at home" (The Daily Telegraph, 29 July).
While the socialist does not support the more violent harassment methods used by a small minority of animal rights campaigners, this law's possible repercussions could be far reaching for all campaigners, removing people's right to protest in many cases.
A protest outside the office of a political party could be seen as "intimidating" behaviour and give the police legal justification to remove the protesters.
Strikers "visiting" one of their bosses' homes to make their point during campaigning against, say, job cuts would be especially "intimidating" in such a context. Police and courts could also treat mass pickets as a form of anti-social behaviour.
COMMUNITY CAMPAIGNS and workers' struggle provide the basis for building a spirit of solidarity and friendship among ordinary people. The 1984-85 miners' struggle provides the best example for this - entire towns experienced a level of unity unknown until then when fighting Thatcher's attacks.
Yet, the government is creating the very laws which could seriously undermine and criminalise such campaigns. Meanwhile, all major political parties who cry out for 'law and order' force through the cuts in public spending, the school and hospital closures and the attacks on pensioners' rights, which make community campaigns a matter of survival for ordinary people.
So ASBOs are anti-social by their very nature. With trade unionists gearing up to fight the equally anti-social job cuts in the public sector, trade unionists, socialists and community campaigners have to unite to fight the increasingly repressive nature of the British state as well.
ST MICHAELS Ward has the highest unemployment in Coventry. Outside the city's main areas investment in community and youth facilities has suffered and issues involving young people and local residents have grown.
St Michaels was represented by three Socialist Party councillors, now it's two - one was lost by a hair's breadth in the last election. A year ago these problems came to my attention as a Socialist councillor.
A group of young people were playing ball games and bothering residents including a man with a heart condition. Local residents were fuming. There was a clear possibility of an "Us and them" situation between them and the youth involved.
I helped set up a meeting attended by over 35 local residents. The police and community wardens also came. The meeting was angry but constructive, partly due to the tone we set that there was a lack of local facilities for young people.
It would have been easy just to demand that the police turned up heavy-handedly but instead we used the local warden service to approach the youth. They did so and discussed with them - one young lad was excluded from school and had nothing to occupy him. The wardens helped set up a course for him and helped occupy others.
The police were involved and their presence increased but not in a heavy-handed way. Within a month the problems had dissipated in that area. There were sporadic problems and news that problems had shifted to other streets but for a good few months the area was quieter.
A heavy-handed approach would not have got this result - it may even have exacerbated it. Stretched police resources would in any case have made such an approach impossible to sustain.
Whilst New Labour's Anti Social Behaviour Bill had measures that working class people would support, such as closure of crack houses and measures against prostitution and fly-tipping, it helped to create a myth that deep rooted social problems can be tackled by bits of paper and bureaucracy.
In reality the prisons are overcrowded and the courts can't cope. And the more ASBO's are used for low-key offences, the more swamped the system to enforce them will become. But New Labour spinners try to use these issues to grab votes and deflect people's attention away from the real robbers, like the capitalists who run Fords stealing the livelihoods of Coventry workers.
Socialists have to be careful - simply blaming capitalism won't help communities having to cope with the "Do what you like and stuff the others" approach of Thatcherism and with less and less hope for a secure future for working-class youth.
The community should be really 'empowered' to deal with these issues by strong residents' and community groups that would seek to help young people as well as deal with problems.
(likely to become law before the general election) gives the police new powers including
IDENTITY (ID) cards are a license to print money for fraudsters, and will give another lucrative business opportunity to organised crime.
Even biometric ID cards are open to forgery; the only thing that will change is that the price of forged ID documents will go up, and the stranglehold of organised crime on the production of forged ID will become tighter, as only large criminal gangs will have the resources to create believable copies.
ID cards won't stop terrorism. Compulsory ID cards in Spain didn't prevent the Madrid bombings in March this year. For terrorists with the money to get hold of fake ID it could even make evading the authorities easier.
ID cards will be used to help destroy public services. New Labour say they want ID cards to be shown in future before people can access public services like health, education and welfare benefits. We don't want a system like the US, where you have to show that you have medical insurance to cover your treatment before you are admitted to hospital.
NEW LABOUR'S attacks on democratic rights such as the anti-terrorist bills and the 2003 Criminal Justice Act have greatly extended the power of the state and reduced the rights of the accused.
The amount of time allowed for detention without charge has increased from 36 hours to 48. Some people have been detained without charge in British prisons for over two years now under anti-terror laws.
The new criminal justice bill aims to dismantle the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" by shifting the burden of proof onto the defence as opposed to the prosecution.
It would introduce hearsay evidence and allow previous convictions into jury trials, which could prove hideously prejudicial.
New Labour intend to scrap the double-jeopardy rule which, in effect, will mean that even if someone is acquitted by a jury for a particular offence, they can still be tormented again and again by police. This is at a time when a huge number of miscarriages of justice - people convicted of crimes that they did not commit - are still coming to light.
Home Secretary Blunkett claims that he's shifting the balance of the criminal justice system towards the rights of victims of crime. But the ultimate needs of victims cannot be properly catered for by building more prisons to lock up petty thieves, drug addicts and the wrongly accused.
Only by getting to the root causes of crime can we begin to improve the lives of victims and offenders of crime. Those causes lie in a system that ravages the world's resources for the benefit of a privileged few, while leaving war and poverty for those that it leaves in its wake.
THE NATIONAL Union of Students (NUS) has called a demonstration in Cardiff on 2 December, to protest against top-up fees. New Labour has decided that burdening students with fees of over £1,000 a year and getting rid of grants and replacing them with loans was not enough. This summer they finally passed the bill on top-up fees through parliament.
This will allow individual universities in England to decide how much to charge. Although there is a cap of £3,000 a year, this will only stay in place for a few years. Many universities have already stated that they will be looking to eventually charging fees of up to £10,000 a year.
The Welsh Assembly have not yet decided whether to introduce top-up fees in Wales, and are due to vote on it early next year after receiving the results from the Rees Report.
This report has been commissioned to look into student funding, debt and hardship in Wales. Unfortunately, the board doing the report is made up of top-ranking professors and vice-chancellors who are very unlikely to have students' interests in mind when considering these proposals.
The vice-chancellor at Swansea University is on the board - he's only been at Swansea for a year and he's managed to axe five departments. He's said he wishes to introduce top-up fees.
The demonstration in Cardiff is a good place to kick-start an active campaign opposing top-up fees in Wales but it shouldn't stop there. We should have regular mass action, putting pressure on local Assembly Members, Members of Parliament as well as the Welsh Assembly.
This should also be followed with a national demonstration in London to show Westminster the campaign has not ended. Giving up in England allows the government to follow up with more and more drastic measures. If top-up fees are not defeated we'll see a society where only the elite can get an education, with working class and lower middle-class young people being pushed out into low-paid jobs.
As 2004 draws to a close, the continuing brutal occupation of Iraq underlines why we must continue our struggle against this rotten capitalist system and for a socialist future.
In Britain, civil service and Jaguar workers are fighting for their jobs. Meanwhile privatisation of our jobs and services continues apace under Blair.
2004 was a big success for our party. Campaigning against low pay and top-up fees, we signed up hundreds to Socialist Students in the most successful Freshers Fairs for years.
We stood candidates in the local council elections and organised rallies to celebrate 40 years of our paper - the socialist. We participated in anti-war protests and organised our successful Socialism 2004 weekend.
Whether on national demos or at the European Social Forum in London, we are the only party putting forward a socialist alternative that is attracting young people to our party.
In the new year, we need to prepare for further action by civil service and other workers against job cuts and attacks on pensions. We will be producing material to participate in the anti-war demo in March and finance is needed to ensure that the Socialist Party is represented at the World Social Forum in Brazil in January.
In order to continue this work into next year and build on our successes, we need more resources. We have no rich backers. Our income comes only from our members, readers of our paper and the thousands of working class people who support our campaigns and struggles.
A donation to the Socialist Party this Christmas would be greatly appreciated whether large or small. We depend on you to finance our campaigning work.
THE RESULTS of the second round of voting in Ukraine's presidential election have dragged the country into a deep crisis that threatens to split it into two. If it escalates further, we could see ethnic conflict develop in one of the biggest and most populous countries in Europe.
After an extremely dirty and polarised campaign, the official results announced by the Electoral Commission gave sitting Premier Victor Yanukovych a small 2% lead over his opponent Victor Yuschenko. Yushenko has refused to recognise the results and mobilised his supporters to force Yanukovich to accept defeat.
The elections were undoubtedly fixed. In the pro-Yanukovych east turnouts of over 100% were achieved, an achievement not even managed in Soviet times!
During the first round of the election armed men 'kidnapped' a whole polling station, including the ballot boxes and staff, and kept them for several days.
Hundreds of thousands of Yuschenko supporters have flooded to Kiev and there are further huge mobilisations throughout western Ukraine. City councils in Lviv and elsewhere have declared that they recognise Yuschenko as Ukrainian President. The Police in Lviv are wearing orange ribbons in solidarity with Yuschenko.
In the eastern Ukraine however, where the vast majority voted for Yanukovych, other demonstrations were being organised. Tens of thousands were on the streets of the centre of the Ukraine's coal mining region, the Donbas, demanding that Yanukovych's victory be recognised.
Thousands of Easterners have been mobilised in buses and trains to come to Kiev to support Yanukovych. By Friday 26 November even the demonstration of Yanukovych supporters outside the railway station was beginning to look as big as that in support of Yuschenko in the city centre.
But some of these demonstrators appeared to have no heart for a fight. The first group of miners to reach Kiev actually joined in the pro-Yuschenko demo, saying that they had been deprived of information in Donetsk - there the TV5 Channel, which is the only pro-Yuschenko programme, has been taken off the air.
Regional leaders in Donetsk, Kharkhov, Odessa, Lugansk and the Crimea have declared they will organise a referendum to form an autonomous region called the South East Ukraine if Yuschenko takes over as President. This would in effect split the Ukraine in two and some of these leaders, particularly in the Crimea, would use this as a means of taking part of the Ukraine into Russia.
At the time of writing the stalemate continues. Behind the scenes negotiations appear to be continuing but over what is unclear.
The Supreme Court has forbidden the publication of the official results until Tuesday, when the complaints of Yuschenko about the vote rigging are due to be heard. The Supreme Rada eventually met on Saturday 27 November and declared it considers the vote invalid.
Yuschenko has said he would accept a re-run of the vote and it appears that the two sides will seek some form of compromise either to share power or to re-run parts of the election.
But in their squabble for power, the two sides have released a genie from the bottle, and they are finding it difficult to get it back in.
The country is now extremely polarised. Unfortunately this is along national lines, between the Ukrainian population in the west and Russian speaking population in the east. The huge Ukrainian working class has found itself without independent representation and left to choose between two pro-market candidates, one of whom is pro-Western and the other pro-Russian.
The Russian elite backs Yanukovych. The US supports Yuschenko and has played a big role in putting together the "Pora" campaign that is at the forefront of the anti-Yanukovyich protests.
The miners and industrial working class are largely located in the Russian-speaking east, where 70% of the country's GNP is generated. Many already hate Yuschenko for what is seen as his attempts to Westernise the Ukraine and for his role as one of the architects of neo-liberal 'reforms' that led to the collapse of whole sections of Ukrainian industry.
Yuschenko has always acted as the conductor of western interests in the Ukraine, both during his period in government as prime minister between 1999-2001 and in the opposition.
Yuschenko also complains loudly about the undemocratic nature of the ruling elite but until recently his Parliamentary fraction included the leadership of the "Social-Nationalist Party of the Ukraine"; the nearest thing there is in the Ukraine to a Nazi Party.
At the same time the huge resources of the state were mobilised behind the current Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych.
Yanukovych is a representative of that wing of the Ukrainian capitalists which relies on the sale of raw materials and commodities. He took an active part in the battles to sell off state property in the early 1990s and has two prison sentences for violent attacks on his opponents to underline how close he is to the state-mafia gangs that took over the industry after privatisation.
As Yuschenko became a hostage to Western interests, Yanukovych became a hostage to the Russian elite. In the days before the election a big profile visit by Putin to Kiev was aimed at showing just who was boss. Russian capital now controls almost all of Ukrainian industry.
The only force that could prevent this struggle for redistribution of wealth between different imperialist interests is a unified working class, which would struggle for the nationalisation, under democratic workers' control and management, of Ukrainian industry so that the country's wealth could be planned and used for the benefit of working people.
There was no working-class party with a programme capable of offering any viable alternative to vote for. In the first round the two main "left" candidates, Moroz of the so-called Socialist Party and Simonyenko of the misnamed "Communist" party gained 5.8% and 5% of the vote respectively. Moroz long ago took his party to the right and aligned it with western interests. He was feted not only by US Democrats but by Republicans also.
Simonyenko's 'communists' were no better. Rather than fighting for the interests of working people, his party lobbied for the interests of the pro-Russian industrialists.
But the lack of a left party does not mean that there is not a huge potential for genuine left ideas.
Socialists argue that a workers' party should oppose the attempts by the capitalist politicians to play the national card. It should oppose the attempts to draw the country into NATO, the EU and in support of US imperialism's war in Iraq.
It must argue that genuine Ukrainian independence could only be achieved by breaking with imperialism, whether based in Washington, Moscow or Brussels, and with capitalism. Against the Russian capitalists' attempts to form a new Slavic bloc based on Russian imperialist domination, a workers' party would campaign for an equal unity between the working peoples of the region.
It would fight to guarantee the rights of all nationalities in a multinational Ukraine based on the recognition of both Ukrainian and Russian as state languages, with people having the right to converse and communicate in whichever language they choose.
Regions that wish autonomy, such as the Crimea or sections of the West Ukraine, would be allowed self-determination and offered the opportunity to become an equal part of a genuinely democratic socialist federation.
In other words, a genuine workers' party would struggle for an end to the capitalist exploitation of the Ukraine, which has led to the impoverishment of millions, whilst a few have concentrated billions into their own hands.
SOCIALIST PARTY member Stephen Jolly has won a seat in Langridge Ward in the Yarra City Council elections in Melbourne, Australia. This is the first electoral victory for the socialist movement in Australia for many years.
Eleven candidates stood for the seat. Stephen got the third highest first preference vote.
The Socialist Party left-wing team took up the basic concerns of the local community. We successfully presented ourselves as the left opposition to the joint Australian Labour Party (ALP)/Green-run Council.
On core economic issues the council has undertaken a neo-liberal agenda, with asset management and debt reduction the major priority. The big issue is the on-going financial bleeding of councils by State and Federal government. We said it was wrong for the council not to campaign with other councils, trade unions, and the community to change this.
The other reason we won this seat was as a result of a decade of hard work in the area. A significant number of local people knew of our work saving Richmond Secondary College, on the urban environment, on heroin reform, for casual workers' rights etc and trusted us enough to vote socialist.
For a full report see: www.socialistworld.net
Seventeen political groups, mostly Sunni, have called for the postponement of elections in Iraq, scheduled for 30 January. They include the party of the stooge interim prime minister Iyad Alawi and former foreign minister Adnan Pachachi.
The Association of Muslim Scholars had already called for a boycott of the elections.
Despite US forces reducing the city of Fallujah to rubble, resistance to the occupation continues. The main targets have been the Iraqi security forces. In Mosul, the 10,000 strong police force has collapsed and 50% of the National Guard deserted after an uprising in the city.
Now 5,000 US troops are engaged in the 'sequel' to the 'Battle of Fallujah', carrying out raids on cities and towns south of Baghdad along the Euphrates. One senior US commander was forced to admit: "We're in here for the long haul".
For ordinary Iraqis the effects of occupation are devastating. Acute malnutrition amongst young children has almost doubled since March 2003, made worse by lack of clean water and sanitation. More than a third of children under five are chronically malnourished.
Free and democratic elections are impossible under imperialist occupation and the troops should be withdrawn.
If, as the puppet Iraqi government is saying, the elections go ahead at the end of January, huge swathes of the country, mainly Sunni, will be disenfranchised risking further polarising Sunnis and Shias.
The use of Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the ethnically mixed city of Mosul and the increase in ethnically motivated killings show that the threat of civil war and the break-up of Iraq is a real one.
The socialist's call for democratically controlled ethnically mixed militias and the building of workers' and farmers' organisations to defend and of unite ordinary Iraqis against the occupation is therefore an urgent one. As is the struggle for democratic working-class ownership and control of Iraqi resources in order to plan society in the interests of ordinary Iraqi people.
THE SOCIALIST Party is affiliated to the CWI which organises in 36 countries across the globe. Today, when just 500 giant multinationals dominate the globe - employing 46 million people and controlling 45% of world production - the need for a global struggle against capitalism is more pressing than ever.
Capitalism in the 21st century is a system of inequality, instability and turmoil. It is this which is leading a new generation to challenge the existing order and to begin to search for an alternative.
After a decade or more when the ideas of Marxism stood isolated, buffeted by a tidal wave of pro-capitalist propaganda, the tide of history has turned.
More than at any time in the last 15 years, the opportunity exists to build the forces of the CWI. Since our previous IEC, a year ago, our membership has increased by 10%. But in the coming year we need to grow far more significantly if we are to try and meet the tasks that are facing us.
Perhaps the most inspiring reports at the IEC were those from CWI sections in the neo-colonial world. For example, our section in Sri Lanka, that has recently contested elections in very dangerous conditions, caused by a dramatic rise in communal tensions. Our party received the highest vote of any on the left with 14,660 votes and was one of the only parties to stand in both the Tamil North and the Sinhalese areas. In the face of death threats, our section ran a very successful election campaign and has five new branches as a result.
Our section in Pakistan has also made important steps forward. It now exists in all four provinces and has produced the first four issues of our sister paper (also called the socialist) since May this year - which has been used to intervene in a number of campaigns and struggles - including a steel mill strike and a campaign against domestic violence.
In the last year, the South African ruling class have felt the fury of the working class, in the shape of the biggest public sector strike in the country's history. Our small section intervened energetically in the strike movement and, as a result, has two new branches.
BUT IT is perhaps in Nigeria - the second largest section of the CWI - that our members have been faced with the greatest challenges and possibilities. Over the last two years the country has been rocked by four general strikes over increases in fuel prices. The high international oil price means that the government has $4.7 billion more in oil revenue than was budgeted for.
Yet, in a country where petrol is essential for everything from electricity to cooking, the government has relentlessly attempted to drive the fuel prices up. They have been met with absolutely determined opposition from the working class and the poor masses. In response, the government has brought in new anti-labour laws.
Our party has played a leading role in the movement, particularly in Lagos where the general secretary - Segun Sango - was on an eight-person committee co-ordinating the strike.
Unfortunately, as well as opposing the government, they are also having to oppose the hesitancy of the majority of trade union leaders - who called off the most recent general strike without a significant victory being won.
It is not only in the neo-colonial world where we have taken steps forward, but also in the most powerful imperialist country on the planet - the USA. The gap between the rich and poor in the USA is the widest it has been for 75 years. A majority think the war on Iraq was wrong - and 40% support immediate withdrawal of the troops.
As Socialist Alternative, our section in the USA explained - Bush could not win the presidential election, but Kerry could lose it. A pro-war, big business politician, he was incapable of offering a real alternative for working class people. That's why, while they understood the 'anyone but Bush' feeling of many ordinary Americans, Socialist Alternative were the first on the left to support the candidacy of Ralph Nader, the anti-corporate candidate.
In Seattle, Minneapolis and Boston, Socialist Alternative speakers were on the platform of Nader's rallies of between 500 and 1,000 people.
THE SOCIALIST Party in England and Wales can learn a lot about party building from our sister sections in Europe. Two of them, Belgium and Greece, are currently the fastest-growing sections of the CWI.
In every country of Europe, the big business neo-liberal offensive is being stepped up. Countries that were previously held up to British workers as models of 'social partnership' and 'caring capitalism' are now, as a result of capitalism's crisis, facing an even more brutal version of Thatcherism.
In Germany, the supposedly social-democratic government are presiding over a savage assault on every aspect of workers' living standards. Eight million German workers are now employed in e1 an hour jobs. Millions are facing an overnight increase in the working week from 35 hours a week to 40, 45 or even 50.
Despite their baleful national trade union leadership, sections of the German working class have started to fight back. Our small section has played an important role. We helped to initiate the first national demonstration against the cuts, which was 100,000 strong, and showed the possibility for generalised strike action by leading a strike of young workers and students in Kassell.
Similarly, in Belgium, we proposed a 'national youth march for jobs' that has now been taken up by the youth sections of the two largest trade union federations.
The economic and social crisis in Europe is also leading to political radicalisation. In Germany, for example, ten years after the wall came down a government survey found that 51% of West Germans and 79% of East Germans believe that 'socialism was a good idea only badly implemented.'
This is not a result of new illusions in the old East Germany, which bore no resemblance to genuine socialism, but flows from German workers' experience of 21st century capitalism. As a result, our section has its first three councillors elected in Aachen, Cologne and Rostock.
Of course, the economic crisis also creates conditions where racist and reactionary ideas can grow, which, as recent events in the Netherlands demonstrate, can temporarily cut across class struggle. The need for a renewed campaign against racism was agreed at the IEC.
However, the main trend is for an increased combativity and anger amongst the working class, and, amongst a significant minority, a searching for a means to transform the planet. The IEC gave us all renewed confidence that the CWI is capable of building a force which will play a critical role in the socialist transformation of society.
Background documents outlining the main themes of those discussions can be found on the CWI's website - www.socialistworld.net. Shorter discussions were held on Venezuela, Brazil, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Germany. (back)
WE WERE in a state of shock after the first film, Which Revolution. The first of a double-header on the recent revolutionary movements in Venezuela, it is a vicious, crude, reactionary diatribe against the working class and poor of Venezuela, who rose up in defence of the populist leader, Hugo Chávez, in 2001/02.
The lock-out by oil bosses to try and bring down the Chávez government was shown as a mass strike. Demonstrations organised by the right-wing opposition – which did involve important sections of the middle classes (not just the rich) – were shown as representative of ‘the nation’.
None of this, however, gelled with the eye-witness reports at these tumultuous events. One such participant, Celso Calfullan (Socialismo Revolucionario, CWI Chile), was disgusted at what he was seeing on the screen!
The most disgraceful episode concerned the shooting of protesters on one of the main demos in April 2002. Fortunately, the second film, Bolivarian Venezuela: People and Struggle of the Fourth World War, went through those scenes step by step, exposing police snipers controlled by the right-wing mayor of Caracas.
It traced Chávez’s rise to power back to mass protests in the late 1980s against sudden price rises in basic goods, transport and fuel. This was the beginning of the neo-liberal offensive – the ‘fourth world war’. This mass movement culminated in a massacre by state forces on 27 February 1989. Nothing was the same again.
Chávez won elections in 1999 – having led a failed coup in 1992 – on a wave of mass support. He introduced a new constitution. The film charts his course. What is clear is the sheer scale of the movement supporting him.
When the right-wing opposition (backed by the US) staged a coup in April 2002 and Chávez was arrested, the working-class and poor poured onto the streets in a mass uprising. They laid siege to the presidential palace. The army was split and Chávez was released to take power once again.
The film also gives a picture of the character of the movement. Although there is much talk of participation, it is not clear how far rank-and-file organisation has gone. It looks more like programmes to tackle food shortages, provide education, shelter and medicines are handed down to the poor, rather than genuinely involving them in decision making and organisation.
Nonetheless, the support this has generated runs deep: ‘They can carry out 40 coups if they want, but they’ll never come back,’ shouts a woman’s defiance. This is seen as an anti-rich, anti-imperialist struggle, one uniting the whole of Latin America.
Unfortunately, although Chávez has implemented programmes to alleviate some of the worst symptoms of capitalist and imperialist exploitation, he does not attempt to treat the whole disease. The ruling class in Venezuela still own and control the economy and the mass media. The tragic events of Chile in 1973, when a left-wing socialist government was backed by the mass of the population, only to be brutally crushed by the CIA-backed coup of General Pinochet, is the ominous shadow hanging over the workers of Venezuela.
Bolivarian Venezuela does not analyse Chávez’s programme, or point up the need for democratically organised economic and political control in the hands of the working class. What it does show is the enthusiasm of workers and poor to fight for a cause they believe in. It shows their guts and determination. It shows that revolution is possible.
This is part of the Discovering Latin America: Third Film Festival, which runs until 5 December in various cinemas in London. The wide-ranging programme includes feature films, documentaries and seminars from many of the continent’s countries.
THE GOVERNMENT have announced their intention to make changes from April next year. They will be doing things like abolishing the 85-year rule, which says that if your years in the pension scheme and your age add up to 85 or more, you can retire, at the discretion of the employer.
At the moment the scheme says if redundancies are declared, you can go aged 50 with access to your pension. That's been put up to 55. And at the moment you can go aged 60, with access to your pension. That's been put up to 65.
They're also consulting on another range of changes for the future, like increasing the cost of employees' contributions. So we know that if they get away with this lot it won't stop there, they will come back for more.
Similar changes are being pushed in the NHS and in the teachers' and civil service schemes. But the local government one has been brought forward - they're supposed to be bringing in these changes from April next year. It's a year later for the other schemes.
The unions have done all the lobbying and our members have written to their MPs. The TUC called its lobby of parliament and rally last week. And there's been detailed submissions from the trade unions to the government.
Even some of the employers are opposed to the changes. Knowsley council, for example, have put in a submission which largely agrees with UNISON's position.
They think the pension scheme is a big incentive for recruitment and retention. In councils like Knowsley, people don't exactly queue up to work here, because of the nature of the problems in the place.
All this has been well-organised and efficiently done but it hasn't worked. So we have to think of other methods of fighting now.
At UNISON's local government service group conference in June, I moved a resolution on behalf of the branch. It said if the government press ahead unilaterally with their changes, we should ballot the members to take industrial action. That was accepted by the conference. We need to be raising that issue now with our members.
I was impressed that at the TUC rally last week, Mark Serwotka raised the question of a strike across the public sector over pensions, this side of the general election. That would fit with UNISON's policy and it would make for very strong, determined action.
Last week, UNISON's policy committee met and we had a report back from the pensions lobby. I raised the issue of Serwotka's call and said that we need to examine that seriously now.
There will be meetings of the relevant bodies over the next few weeks where I hope UNISON will consider and act on that call.
Service conditions issues in UNISON are correctly dealt with by the different service groups, like local government, health etc and not by the NEC.
But I do think the service conditions groups should make plans on the basis of industrial action to defend pensions across the public sector.
THOUSANDS OF workers demonstrated in support of Jaguar workers at Coventry's Browns Lane plant - who are facing redundancies and closure at the hands of car multinational Ford - on Saturday 27 November.
The mood amongst the working-class population of Coventry to fight was shown by the over 300 copies of the socialist sold in and around the demonstration.
Such is the mood of anger in the city at Ford's plan to close the plant that even the local Conservative councillors and party felt compelled to take part, with their own banner: "Coventry Conservatives support Jaguar". Socialist Party members asked the Tories whether it was Jaguar bosses or workers they were supporting.
The Tory mayor sat in his Mayoral Jaguar at the front of the demo for the whole thousand yards of the demo, which started at 9.30 in the morning - effectively reducing it to being a local demo rather than the national demo that many had hoped for. Some workers had come from other parts of the country but they were few and far between.
Even the Labour Party had, for the first time on many a demonstration, organised its own contingent and placards in support of the Jaguar workers.
However, many of the workers who supported and participated in the demo will have left it feeling that another opportunity had been missed to mobilise an effective fight against Ford's plans.
Speaker after speaker at the rally denounced the fact that Ford had reneged on its agreements over the future of the company and had taken over £80 million of government money since 1995 in subsidies. Now that money was effectively being used to sack the Browns Lane workers.
Labour MPs and government ministers, like multimillionaire Geoffrey Robinson and Mike O'Brien, Department of Trade and Industry minister, pointed out that it would cost more to close Browns Lane than keep it open. But they went no further than saying pressure had to be put on Ford to negotiate and have a "sensible dialogue". They had to be told that "kicking workers in the teeth was not acceptable."
It was left to trade union leaders like Derek Simpson of Amicus and Tony Woodley of the TGWU to argue that it was better for workers to fight because the outcome would be worse if they didn't.
But, even then, their talk of fighting back was extremely subdued. Derek Simpson finished his speech by promising: "We'll do what we can."
Tony Woodley put up a more fighting defence of the Jaguar workers and working people generally, by calling for a fight to get rid of the anti-union laws, which make it easier to sack workers in Britain than any other country in Europe. He contrasted the Jaguar workers with the management as: "Lions led by donkeys with blinkers on".
However, even he appealed to workers who were taking redundancy by saying that "they will get their chance" to take their redundancy but they should "vote yes in the strike ballot [starting on Monday] - even if you are going to take redundancy."
Garry Hardwick, deputy convenor for Amicus, Browns Lane, speaking after the demo argued for extending the struggle: "We call on German Ford workers to practically support us and take solidarity action.
"Practically we will be looking for some sort of stoppage, which financially would have an effect on Ford and would get them round the table and make them renegotiate the decision to close Browns Lane.
"After today's rally, I'm more convinced the ballot will be successful. Obviously we have to await the ballot result, but once we got it, we'll be looking for support from other Jaguar workers and externally from Ford workers as well."
According to workers inside the plant, Ford's £80 million redundancy offer is up to £36,000, plus a full pension from the age of 50. This is a huge carrot dangling in front of the workforce.
But the union leaders still have to argue for a fightback, making it clear that the fight will be about more than token resistance - that it can succeed in securing a long-term future and investment for the plant.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, speaking to a Socialist Party fringe meeting after the demo, argued that such a fight would have to call for the nationalisation of Jaguar and the car industry in Britain, with at least some of the workforce in Jag being converted to develop other socially useful production.
The fact that the fight to save Browns Lane is about more than saving the Jaguar marque was shown by the first speaker at the rally.
15-year-old Martin goes to school near the plant. He saw his mum, dad and uncle made redundant at Jaguar when he was a little boy in the early 1990s recession. He said to the assembled rally: "I hope you lot vote to fight to keep the plant open and give us a future where we have decent jobs."
The turnout on the demo was good but considerably lower than was possible. This shows that some opportunities for support have been missed.
But strong support still exists in Coventry and around the country - probably around Europe also - and this support could be revitalised through decisive action and a 'Yes' vote in the ballot for strike action.
BY STRIKING on 25-26 November, teaching assistants (TAs) across Brighton and Hove showed their willingness to fight the council to receive a fair and decent salary.
These low-paid workers, mainly women, carry out invaluable work in the classroom. They often support children with special educational or behavioural needs, all for an average annual salary of £9,000.
The dispute is over the council's decision, while offering a small pay increase, to take away five to seven of the TAs' paid weeks a year, leaving a derisory pay 'rise' of around £26 a year.
The council also tried to buy off the TAs with a £400 one-off payment, which was defiantly rejected. The councillors then voted though a healthy rise in their own allowances, which only increased anger against them.
TAs within UNISON and the GMB voted overwhelmingly for action. In fact, out of 324 UNISON TAs in the city, only three voted against the strike. Action by more than 700 TAs closed over 30 schools across the city. Despite the disruption and the council labelling the TA's 'selfish', support from parents and the public has been solid.
The local paper's text-in poll returned 91% in support of the strike and Socialist Party stalls in the town have had queues of local people lining up to show their solidarity.
On 25 November, TAs marched across the city to a demonstration outside the town hall, then on to a rally of over 400. Messages of support were received from across Britain as other TAs look to Brighton to take the lead. Alex Knutson, Unison branch secretary told the rally: "The turnout has been incredible and we have been so impressed by the support on picket lines outside schools".
Many NUT members refused to cross picket lines and local refuse workers threatened wildcat supporting strikes of their own, all angry with a council that pays its chief executive £145,000 a year but says there's no money left to pay TAs a living wage.
As TA strikes threaten to spread across the country, the Socialist Party argues for a one-day public sector strike to fight the government's cuts and privatisation agenda. We also fight for a new party to represent the mass of working people who will suffer under the neo-liberal polices of all of the three main parties, no matter which of them wins the next general election.
The next two 24-hour stoppages, will be held on 10 December and 6 January.
"Normally we spend most of our time doing workarounds on a completely inadequate computer system. This makes it far more difficult to process a complex benefit like Income Support.
"The chaos last week showed that what is needed is more staff with the knowledge and experience to process benefits.
"We had to work flat out, with just a handful of computers. We did everything we could to issue urgent payments to the public who could get through on busy phone lines.
"The figure of 95% services being provided on the days the computers were down is a complete myth from management.
"The services to the public will completely break down if they get away with cutting a third of our staff.
"We deal with human beings with complex lives who need their claims to benefit sorted out by a human being.
"Even if management could provide us with a proper computer system we would still need all the staff to do the job".
The DWP spent £412.5 million on consultancy fees in the last financial year for external management and technical support, including consultants, advisers, accounts and lawyers.
"JUST WHEN you thought it could not get any worse after the experiences of the CSA we have what can only be described as near-meltdown with IT across the whole of the DWP.
"Yet again we are seeing thousands of hard-working staff, many of whom face the axe, trying to deliver essential services with one hand tied behind their back.
"The Department and the government are hell-bent on axing thousands of civil and public servants, saying IT will enable them to do so, but yet again we are seeing IT systems come to a grinding halt and fail."
EDS are the largest producers of smart cards in the US, which made them one of the favourites to put together a consortium of suppliers or manage the core database. EDS recently sponsored a Home Office conference on the role of research in policing so presumably they have forgotten and forgiven the difficulties with the CSA.
The firm also recently won a £300 million deal with the Ministry of Defence to 'revamp' the armed services' payroll, Britain's second largest payroll apart from the NHS.
The director of a company that advised Hong Kong on its ID cards reckons that Britain's ID system, needing several different biometric tests, could be worth £3 billion in total.