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Year 2010 No. 15, April 21, 2010 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Election 2010:

Recognition of the Necessity for Change

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Recognition of the Necessity for Change

Safeguarding the Future of the Health Service: An Election Issue
Struggle of Laundry Workers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead
Mass Campaign to Save Whittington Hospital

Afghanistan: A Conspiracy of Silence

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Election 2010:

Recognition of the Necessity for Change

Labour, Conservative and Lib Dems, who make up the Westminster cartel, have brought the necessity for change to the foreground of the election campaign. This is a sign that the electorate is not reconciled to opting for any party it considers to be the least of three evils. Faced with the choice of these three parliamentary parties, the people as a whole feel that the politics of the status quo is nothing but a dead end. The people want another alternative. This is the sentiment that the parties are trying to address with talk of change.

A major problem they face in this regard is the recent experience of those political figures who have promised change, but with whom the people have become disillusioned. Tony Blair came to power on the back of the slogan New Labour, New Britain. Such is his legacy that “Blairite” and “New Labour” have almost become terms of abuse. They stand for an anti-social programme and a pro-war government. In the US, the expectations of Barack Obama were high as he promised change we can believe in. The disillusion is yet not as complete as with Tony Blair, but the Obama doctrine is playing out to be one of perpetual war in the name of moral authority.

A defining moment in recent history was when millions upon millions marched on February 15, 2003, opposed to war and the use of force to settle international issues. But the government proved itself to be at odds with this sentiment and to be pro-war. Anglo-US imperialism, the “coalition of the willing”, committed aggression against Iraq, and have pursued the pro-war path, the path of war criminals, to this day. This has placed on the agenda for the necessity for an anti-war government, a government which rejects this “British value”, the value of the “moral compass” for justifying violation of sovereignty and promoting the “clash of civilisations”. Under this banner of a “moral compass”, the government has continued to sanction torture and the presence of British troops on foreign soil.

In promising “change”, the Westminster cartel maintains a conspiracy of silence about the war in Afghanistan, the sanction of torture and the strictures of international law. This shows that the “change” it promises is not the change that the electorate is looking and yearning for.

WDIE calls on the working class and people to recognise encompassing reality of the necessity for change, and that this change requires something which is new and in direct opposition to the programme and policies promoted by the three major parliamentary parties, who all act to make out the electorate should reduce themselves to talent spotters. The empowerment of the working class and people is what is necessary to bring about change.

How is this to come about? This election can be used, not for the people to abandon their struggles for peace and the realisation of their rights, but to advance the fight for an anti-war government. The movement to elect alternative and genuinely anti-war candidates is gaining momentum. The future can be secured only through the people’s own efforts. The new is taking shape concretely, and the working class and people can contribute by working to elect those candidates who recognise in practice the need for an anti-war government and who fight for its realisation.

Fight for an Anti-War Government!

Article Index

Safeguarding the Future of the Health Service: An Election Issue

The fight against cutting investments in social programmes has been ongoing since the onset of the anti-social offensive. A pro-social government would ensure that investments in social programmes are increased, at the same time as ensuring that the rich are stopped from making the first claim on the national social product. All three of the big Westminster parties are committed in fact to cutting social programmes in the name of decreasing the deficit. This underlines that the guarantee of safeguarding the future of the health service lies in the fight of the people, including health workers and professionals.

Below we give two recent examples of this struggle.

Article Index

Struggle of Laundry Workers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead

On Wednesday, April 14, laundry workers at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, seized the initiative and took up their demands of “let us decide” as their next step in the campaign to oppose the closure of the laundry and that they should be treated with dignity and respect.

Over 18 months ago, Newcastle Hospitals decided to place their laundry into a private monopoly and gave notice to withdraw from the consortium of three hospitals that ran the QEH laundry. This was despite the laundry workers having been given assurances two years ago that the laundry's future was assured till at least 2015.

Initially the workers were told their jobs were safe until December 2010, but then the closure was brought forward until March, and then back again to December. Finally, at the end of November 2009, the workers were told the laundry would close on May 31, 2010. The laundry workers and all staff at the hospital vigorously opposed the closure of the laundry as it is a vital part of the service provided to patients. The staff are well aware that bringing laundry from Leicester does not make sense and that the monopoly awarded the contract for cheapness, that is, to use “cheap labour” and will, when the contract is renegotiated no doubt raise its prices considerably when they will have no competition from NHS laundries that will by then all have been closed.

The 74 laundry workers were at first assured that efforts would be made to find alternative jobs within the hospital for those that want them and redundancy paid to those that did not; for those that found jobs elsewhere they would still receive redundancy pay if they left close to the closure date.

However, management at Newcastle hospitals who “own” 66% of the consortium have decided to ignore the laundry workers’ demands and try to force them into unsuitable jobs in Newcastle. They have offered them jobs with low hours and jobs the laundry staff do not want to do, and the cost to travel to Newcastle will be at least £45 per month and in some cases travelling time will add 50% on to their working day. The laundry workers have said enough is enough – let us decide!

From 7.00am on April 14, staff and visitors to the hospital were leafleted and at noon a lively demonstration was held outside the hospital gates. Representatives from nearly every department in the hospital came to show their solidarity and support – nurses, porters, admin and clerical workers, IT and technicians all took part to say, “Let the laundry workers decide”, “It is not the workers who are closing the laundry!” There was vigorous shouting of slogans such as, “Treat our laundry workers with the dignity and respect they deserve”, “Don’t force our laundry workers into unsuitable jobs in Newcastle”, “give vacant posts at QE to those that want them and redundancy pay to others – let us decide!”, “Our workplace, our hospital, our NHS!”

There was much support from the local community some of whom came to join the demo and even more who showed support by shouting or tooting as they passed by.

There was much discussion on the issues and the need for workers to come forward to safeguard the future of the NHS.

Article Index

Mass Campaign to Save Whittington Hospital

An estimated 5,000 people held a lively demonstration against proposals to close the A&E department and the maternity unit of Whittington Hospital, north London, on Saturday, March 20. They marched down the length of Holloway Road to hold a rally in the hospital grounds opposite the main entrance. This launched what is clearly a powerful campaign involving many local organisations, people from all sections of the community, hospital staff, and the local MPs and councillors.

Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition (DWHC) organised the march. The coalition, they explain, was set up to build a united opposition to the proposals to close the Accident and Emergency Department at the Whittington Hospital and to stop the closure, privatisation and run-down of NHS services in the area. They are opposed to any loss of service in any hospital in north London. Their website is http://dwhc.org.uk/.

The march was preceded by an open-top London bus draped with union banners with a local jazz band playing and speakers calling on people on the street to join, and many did. At the rally speaker after speaker condemned the proposal threatening their valued hospital services, making clear that they will not stand by and allow it to happen. One theme discussed by people on the march was the fear of intimidation against staff who spoke out, in the light of which it was particularity important that two staff from the Whittington addressed the rally, the chair of the staff side unions and Jackie Davis, a consultant radiologist. Jackie Davis, one of the founders of “Keep Our NHS Public”, said that over the years she had seen her colleagues stay late into the night to care for their patients, but now for the first time she was seeing how the community cared for their hospital.

Dr Wendy Savage, of Keep Our NHS Public, called for a co-ordinated London-wide campaign to take on the several trusts which were making decisions based only on their own finances.

Gary Heather, chair of Islington Trades Council, pointed out that workers are gagged in the workplace but that their trade unions and the local solidarity from other trade unions protects them.

The march was the lead story in local news on main television channels that evening. It is part of a fast growing movement against threats to London's NHS facing a possible £5 billion worth of cuts over the next few years: the future of a third of the capital's 16,000 hospital beds, many frontline clinical services, several hospitals’ A&E and maternity services and thousands of health workers' jobs are at stake. The struggle of the people themselves is decisive in safeguarding the future of these services, and ultimately it is they who must be empowered to decide. A further day of action is scheduled for April 29.

Article Index

Afghanistan: A Conspiracy of Silence

An IoS poll shows 77 per cent of Britons want our forces to come home and a majority believe our presence makes UK streets less safe from terrorist attack. Yet all three parties are ducking this most critical issue

By Brian Brady, Independent on Sunday, 18 April 2010

It is one of the few genuine issues of life and death during this general election campaign. It will not dictate how much any British school improves, how many police appear on the streets of a city, or how quickly patients are allowed to leave hospitals around the country. But it will, literally, decide the fate of thousands of British service personnel and, ultimately, how many of them live and die.

Yet nobody wants to talk about Afghanistan.

When Nick Clegg "won" the televised party leaders' debate on Thursday night, his victory owed nothing to his limp response to a question about support for British troops serving in Afghanistan. The Liberal Democrat leader agreed that British troops in Afghanistan were under-paid and under-equipped, but he did not question why they had lost 281 colleagues in that country, or why they were there in the first place. Similarly, Gordon Brown and David Cameron have pledged loyal support for a campaign that is deep into its ninth year, and shows no sign of nearing an end. In front of the cameras, the Prime Minister offered sombre reflection on the campaign, while Mr Cameron queried the number of helicopters available to British forces. Yet neither has gone out of his way to tackle the issue head-on elsewhere during this campaign, to explain why the UK should remain in Afghanistan, why it should continue to support a discredited government in Kabul, and how many more British service personnel must die before the mission can be brought to a close.

Last November, The Independent on Sunday called for a "phased, orderly withdrawal" of British forces from the "ill-conceived, unwinnable and counterproductive" campaign in Afghanistan. The UK still remains in there and more than 50 servicemen have died since then. Last month, The IoS revealed that Britain harboured profound concerns at the highest levels over the quality of the Afghan police who must guarantee security before our troops can leave.

The leaders may, at last, be forced to explain their positions this week, when the second debate concentrates on foreign affairs. But, given their performance so far, it is unlikely that they will offer any fresh hope for the service personnel in Afghanistan or their families back home.

"We want to see more substantive engagement on defence issues from the parties," said Douglas Young, executive chairman of the British Armed Forces Federation, an independent staff association for service personnel. "Up to now, there have been too many airy-fairy platitudes and not enough substance."

These are leaders who last week presented election manifestos amounting to more than 80,000 words on their grand plans for education, health, the economy, but who managed to mention Afghanistan only 19 times between them.

The stifling of the issue might be due to the fact that all the main parties know their policies are entirely at odds with the feelings of the population over Afghanistan. In November, a poll found that 73 per cent of people wanted British troops to come home within "a year or so" and almost half of them called for immediate withdrawal.

A poll for The IoS today finds that this number has increased, with 77 per cent now supporting withdrawal on the same terms. The number disagreeing is now below one in seven. Further, more than 50 per cent of those polled believe that the risk of terrorism in the UK is increased by the presence of British troops in Afghanistan.

However, none of the major parties is promising to pull troops out if they get into government and only the Scottish National Party confined to one part of the UK is calling for an honest reappraisal of the operation. The Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, last week made much of his record of "speaking out pretty forcefully" on Afghanistan. But his manifesto commits the party to being "critical supporters of the Afghanistan mission'', albeit with a pledge to match the military surge to a strategy of tackling corruption and winning over moderate Taliban.

The Lib Dem defence spokesman, Nick Harvey, yesterday conceded that anti-war voters have few choices. "If they are against the whole principle of being involved [in Afghanistan], they'll struggle to find anyone putting that case," he said. For opponents of the war, the lack of differentiation between the three main parties and their failure to embrace the Afghan question during the first two weeks of the election campaign amounts to a "conspiracy of silence" to suppress debate.

Chris Nineham, of the Stop the War Coalition, said: "There has been a deafening silence about Afghanistan in the run-up to the election. The three main parties are doing their best not to mention the war, despite the fact that the vast majority of the population oppose it."

Yet, despite complaints from the most vocal critics of the war, there is no guarantee that, however strongly voters feel, they are prepared to treat it as an electoral issue. In November 2006, when the toll of British deaths during five years of the campaign stood at 41, pollsters Ipsos Mori found that "defence/foreign affairs/Iraq and Afghanistan" topped the list of concerns facing the country. Two out of five voters spontaneously identified it as a key national problem. Three and a half years on, with 240 added to the death toll 36 this year alone it has slipped to seventh.

A leaked CIA report last month observed how "some NATO states, notably France and Germany, have counted on public apathy about Afghanistan to increase their contributions to the mission". It also argued that such apathy "enabled leaders to ignore voters". It seems that Britain's leaders are banking on indifference to help them through a potentially troublesome campaign without having to confront the most troubling issue before them.

"All three parties in 2001 thought we should go in. There are no votes in it, so they keep quiet about it," said General Sir Hugh Beach, former deputy commander of British Land Forces.

Five years ago, public opposition to the Iraq War was widely listed as a contributory factor behind a general election result that cut Labour's majority from 167 to 66. And lingering rancour over the war helped to lever Mr Blair from office two years later.

Afghanistan has been different. It has been overwhelmingly regarded as the "just" war. It was portrayed as a campaign to democratise a wild nation, to oust the Taliban, al-Qa'ida and all the extremists threatening the West with terror plots over the past decade.

That justification has lost its power as the death toll spirals and Afghans show little inclination to take control of their own affairs. Military commanders in Pakistan, where suicide bombers killed more than 40 people yesterday, regard the failure of US-led forces to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan with ill-concealed derision.

"They don't have the legitimacy we do," said Colonel Nauman Saeed, who commands 3,500 solders in Bajaur, a mountainous district on the Afghan border. "Afghans see them as illegitimate intruders and occupation forces." At the moment, the Pakistan military are in a victorious mood after retaking much of the territory along the Afghan border which was ruled by the Pakistan Taliban a year ago.

When experts point to terror plots from Pakistan and even within the UK, the Government's contention that the Afghan campaign is vital to protect Britain's security at home is difficult to explain.

And the government of President Karzai continues to raise concerns in NATO capitals. "The problem we have is that the regime in Afghanistan, which we support, is built on electoral fraud, with graft and corruption," said the SNP's foreign affairs spokesman, Angus Robertson. "We need to be absolutely honest about our options, and one of the aspects of that is that there needs to be a decision about when we bring our forces home."

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