Year 2001 No. 58, March 28, 2001
Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :
Prime Minister Retains Prerogative of Surprise Attack
Green Party Threatens Legal Action over Election Broadcasts
A Year of Struggle in the NHS
Health Conference Fringe Meeting on PFI
Massive Overproduction of Mobile Phones
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Tony Blair had a customary audience with the monarch yesterday. Expectations were that the date of the dissolution of parliament, which is exercised through the Royal Prerogative by the Queen, would have come under scrutiny.
It was the last such audience before Tony Blair's self-imposed deadline for deciding to call a general election on May 3, as the Prime Minister is expected to make the decision by Monday.
The legal power to dissolve parliament prior to the end of each five-year parliamentary term has always been exercised by prime ministers as the device for setting the date of the next general election. The whole aim is to gain electoral advantage by being able to wrong-foot political opponents, springing an election upon them at minimal notice.
It is clear that the government has made all the necessary preparations for calling the election, since there is no other champion of the kind of "Third Way" programme which is appropriate for pressing ahead with the neo-liberal agenda that New Labour has been putting in place. The issue has become simply whether the crisis over the foot-and-mouth disease, together with the growing economic crisis, will make it expedient for Tony Blair to postpone the election date or not.
Far from such matters being discussed openly amongst the people, it is characteristic that Tony Blair is jealously guarding the prerogative of a surprise attack against the electorate. This underlines the need for the electorate to break with the party political system which is against them participating in politics on their own behalf.
The Green Party is to take legal action against the BBC and Channel 4 over plans to deny them election broadcasts.
The allocation of broadcasting time during elections is not overall governed by law, but depends on a code of practice of the broadcasting authorities and of the Committee on Political Broadcasting (composed of representatives of political parties and the broadcasters).
As matters stand, to qualify for election broadcasts on channels and radio stations received across England, Scotland and Wales - including C4, Channel 5 and BBC radio - parties must field candidates in one sixth of seats in each country.
The Green Party, although it easily passes that threshold in England and Wales, does not have the required one sixth of seats in England, Scotland and Wales taken together. This is because it does not contest seats in Scotland, which are fought by the Scottish Green Party. The Green Party of England and Wales is planning to field 130 candidates in the general election. To make matters worse, say the Greens, they are being penalised further because, under special exceptions agreed by broadcasters, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, who of course stand only in Scotland and Wales respectively, will qualify for nationwide BBC broadcasts because they have more than one MP at Westminster.
The Green Party of England and Wales has been advised that it has a legal case under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Penny Kemp, Chair of the party's national executive, said, "Unelected and unaccountable officials, on the basis of inconsistent and illogical rules made on their own whim, are basically preventing voters from hearing about the Green Party."
It is clear that not only the Greens are being penalised under these codes of practice, since the rules prevent the electorate from being informed about the stands of all the smaller parties who do not meet these criteria.
by Workers' Weekly Health Group in Cardiff
On the second day of the UNISON Health Care Service Group Conference in Cardiff the morning session opened with a briefing by Paul Marks, UNISON's chief negotiator in the talks with government on a new pay structure for NHS staff. He pointed out that UNISON was organising for a single pay spine, harmonised conditions, the ending of low pay in the NHS and equal pay for work of equal value. Following his briefing on the stage of the negotiations a debate followed on UNISON policy in these negotiations.
The debate on what is called by the government the "Agenda for Change" in the NHS focused on whether the union should take a minimum position of a single pay spine. Government pressure is for all the NHS unions to accept three separate pay spines for different sections of NHS staff. Another, issue in the debate was whether NHS pay should remain so low that it would have to be supported by "market supplements" and whether there should be a general "levelling up of pay" instead of a pay structure in which there are "winners and losers".
The final motion adopted by the Conference called on the Service Group Executive (SGE) to continue to work for a new uniformed system for pay and conditions which will ensure equal pay for work of equal value and provide a basis for ending low pay. Amongst other measures there was a call to organise, at the appropriate time, a national ballot of all members of the union on the proposed new pay structure.
The keynote speech on day two was Dave Prentis, who addressed the conference for the first time as General Secretary of UNISON. Amongst other things he said that it had been a year of growth and a year of struggle. He said that the Dudley Group of Hospitals' staff had been in the front line of the UNISON campaign against the Private Finance Initiative seeking to keep these members in the NHS. He pointed out that although he supported the APF link with the Labour Party and spoke about what he called improvements under New Labour, "but where I do really part company with our government is over its senseless commitment to privatisation, the Private Finance Initiative and to the word de-regulation".
During lunch there was packed fringe meeting on the PFI (see separate report). In the afternoon session there were debates on Recruitment, Retention and Organisation as well as Professional Service Issues.
At the second day of the UNISON Health Conference at Cardiff there was a lunchtime fringe meeting on PFI. This was so well attended that delegates filled the seats and many had to stand at the back of the conference room, which reflected what an important issue this is for health workers.
Two national officers addressed the meeting. In her presentation, the first speaker said that the number of PFI projects was increasing with about 800 schools being affected as well as dozens of hospitals and other public services. Although these projects were continually being increased by the government, opposition to the PFI was growing and "winning" as a recent poll in The Guardian showed.
The speaker explained that PFI greatly increased the costs of building hospitals, but the government's economic motivation was that PFI keeps the public spending balance sheet clear, which is why capital spending by the government is well underspent. This goes hand in hand with the pressure exerted by private finance on the government.
She went on to say that government presents the idea that the private sector manages hospitals better, despite all the evidence actually being to the contrary. She explained that the PFI is very profitable for the construction companies whose profits are usually one of the most unpredictable. On PFI projects they get an expected guaranteed 18% return for 30 - 60 years. This alone has led to huge increases in the share values of these construction companies. The speaker then went on to describe the clear link between increasing these profits and the further cutting back of pay and conditions for health workers, particularly pension conditions.
She went on to say that UNISON is fighting PFI at every level. Firstly, there is the fight against the PFI as a whole, and then against each individual scheme, and then if that failed against the inclusion of staff in the schemes which will greatly reduce their profitability and make them less attractive to private finance.
The second speaker said how important the struggle of the Dudley health workers had been in the fight against all PFI schemes and that it was important to fight politically against the PFI as the government had used these schemes to promise new hospitals. But where all else fails and schemes are put into place it is important to campaign on keeping Whitley terms and conditions for staff.
There were then many questions and contributions from the floor, during which some delegates spoke of their own experiences in fighting PFI schemes in their areas and many reiterated how the struggle in Dudley had a positive effect on these campaigns. There was a lot of support about using the fight against PFI as an issue during the coming election and the importance of linking health workers with the communities in the fight to oppose PFI. The meeting only came to an end because of the restarting of the main conference.
The capitalist overproduction crisis is seriously hitting the mobile phone handset business. Stock Exchanges around the world have seen billions knocked off the prices of technology firms in recent times and some businesses have been wiped out since the New Year.
Big name companies have been affected by mergers such as Vodaphone and Orange. BT has also had to re-assess its strategy and faces re-organisation in order to maintain maximum profits.
The Swedish company Ericsson is stopping production of mobile phones at two factories threatening 1,200 jobs. They are also cutting 2,100 jobs in Sweden. The multinational company's plans include closure and sell off of factories in Carlton, Nottinghamshire, Scunthorpe and Lincolnshire. Ericsson plans to save £1.4bn from 2002. All production is scheduled to stop in Britain in the third quarter of the year.
The problem facing mobile phone production is typical anarchy of production. In order to meet demand massive investment was made to gear up production, employing thousands of workers. Efficiency and productivity has created a glut. Mobile phone companies have attempted to discount in order to cut stocks and eventually closedown of production has had to be considered and even implemented.
At Ericsson the president and chief executive, Kurt Helstrom, said: "In today's uncertain state of the economy with negative signals, Ericsson must react."
Union leaders are seeking urgent talks with the company and said that they would fight against compulsory job losses.
It is by planning production and distribution of products to meet the needs of the people that booms and slumps in the economy can be averted. Workers must take up the issues of a planned economy so as to secure an economic future for society with stability. The working class must lead the nation by taking up all of the issues of political economy, which includes socialisation of the means of production and exchange.
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