Workers' Weekly Masthead

Volume 29, Number 22, November 20-27, 1999

Queen's Speech:

Taking the Anti-Social Offensive Further

Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

Queen's Speech:
Taking the Anti-Social Offensive Further
Outline of the legislative programme set out in the Queen's Speech, as taken from government sources
List of Government Bills introduced in the first days of the new Parliament

Youth & Students Page:
Students Step Up Their Protests
Students work long hours, for low pay

News in Brief
University Hires Debt-Collecting Firm
African graduates' bleak job prospects
Director-Worker Pay Gap Widest in Britain
Gordon Brown Quotes IMF in Support of "Rigour"

Workers' Movement:
Council Workers Successfully Strike

Pensioners Demand their Rights
Letter to the Editor: On Capita Business Services and Old Age Pensioners

Wolfe Tone Society Holds Bobby Sands/James Connolly Commemoration
Message to Bobby Sands/James Connolly Commemoration from RCPB(ML)

Anglo-French Summit:
Further Dangerous Militarisation of the European Union
UK-French Declaration On European Defence
Blair Offers HQ for EU Military Force

The Commonwealth – Anachronistic and Reactionary Institution

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Queen's Speech:

Taking the Anti-Social Offensive Further

The Queen's Speech on November 17 set out the government's legislative programme for the coming parliament.

The Queen mouthed the words of Tony Blair from the last Labour Party Conference in saying that this third programme of legislation from New Labour "aims to build on my Government's programme of reform as they seek to modernise the country and its institutions to meet the challenges of the new Millennium". This programme, as has become clear, is to escalate the anti-social offensive, while doing everything to create the impression that this onslaught on society is in fact the last word in modernisation and progress.

The Speech referred to "continued modernising of our economy [and] the promotion of enterprise" indicating that the government's neoliberal policies would be further pursued. It continued to promote the fiction of a "dynamic, knowledge-based economy" of "electronic commerce and electronic government, improving our ability to compete in the digital marketplace", as though knowledge and new technology in itself produced wealth without the application of labour to nature. It was said, of course, that education remains the government's "number one priority", which signals that teachers will come under more pressure, an all-round high standard of education will become even more the preserve of the privileged, and that education will become even more a source of profits for the rich. It is a similar story with the Post Office which will be converted into a public limited company so as "to compete more effectively in UK and overseas markets", rather than providing a much-needed service for the people.

There are a large number of bills proposed, nine in fact, dealing with issues of "law and order", making this the heaviest part of the government's legislative programme. These proposals would provide new powers to punish those who fall foul of the government's direction of criminalising society itself. There will be an end to a defendant's right to trial by jury in a number of cases, which the legal profession have said will create a "two-tier defence system" with those most vulnerable being the unemployed, those in low-status jobs and defendants from national minority communities. In line with the false analysis of "institutionalised racism" in the sense that racism is said not to be a preferred policy of the state but is somehow inherent in certain institutions, there are to be measures to combat "racial discrimination in the police". There are proposals also to cut the welfare benefits of those convicted of crimes.

The government is proposing in its "reform" of the financing of political parties that there is to be a limit of £20 million in the spending of parties at election time. This alone exposes the farce and the fraud of parliamentary elections. The fiction has been maintained up till now that candidates are somehow independent of political parties and there are legal limits on how much each candidate can outlay, while how much the big parties can splash out to coerce the people to put an X by their candidates has been unlimited. That £20 million is to be the limit shows just how unlevel is the playing field for candidates from small parties or independent candidates who may be chosen by their peers.

Other proposed bills include a "Freedom of Information" Bill, which does nothing to make government accountable and, as commentators have pointed out, also does nothing to prevent cover-ups by government by exempting so much from its scope. A consolidation of the "Prevention of Terrorism" Act is proposed just at the time when there is every sign of a breakthrough in the Irish Peace Process, and the so-called "terrorism" which the Act was introduced on a "temporary" year-by-year basis is at an end. In other words, all political struggles are to be further criminalised. In the words of Downing Street, the main points of this bill are said to be: Permanent UK-wide anti-terrorism legislation; definition of terrorism to apply for first time to "domestic" terrorism, strengthened powers to tackle terrorist financing and confiscate terrorist assets; judge (rather than a Minister) able to consider police requests for extension of detention; additional temporary Northern Ireland measures.

Of the bills which might have been introduced, there is no mention, for example, of legislation on electoral reform to remove the "first-past-the-post" system which is part of the whole process which keeps the people themselves away from political power.

In fact, the whole of this legislative programme underlines the necessity for political renewal. The government has responded to the crisis of credibility and legitimacy by embarking on a programme of "constitutional reform". This has the aim, with an air of tackling the problem fundamentally, of actually entrenching the features which are in essence the most in need of renewal. The programme also underlines how far the government has retreated from the notion that the state, as the sole representative of society, has responsibility for the well-being of society. The proposed measures underline the actual role of the government as the representative, not of society, but of the financial oligarchy, of taking the measures to ensure that the aims of the financial oligarchy prevail in the economy and in society.

This has been the history of the Labour Party in power since May 1997. Tony Blair talks of himself as a "moderniser", as mentioned in the Queen's Speech, against the "forces of conservatism". But this legislative programme will only provide the circumstances for deepening the economic and political crisis, exacerbating the contradiction at the base of society between the socialisation of production and the private appropriation of the values produced, the situation where the whole of society, not just manufacturing, is being run to enrich the top financiers, a foreign policy based on "commercial links", "security initiatives" which are based on making Britain number one in the global market.

The very fact that the programme is presented in a "Queen's Speech" highlights how backward is Britain and the whole parliamentary system, and that the government, as the executive, have the power to rule by putting forward whatever legislation they choose. And then the "debate" on this Queen's Speech is one of the most horrible things to behold, a model of everything serious political discussion should not be, lowering the level of political culture to its most base. The whole rigmarole reinforces the content of the legislation, which is that the government will force through all the arrangements which the rich require to further drain the society of its human and natural assets.

The Labour government's third legislative programme shows that this government, far from being a force for progress and modernisation, represents the exact opposite, an instrument for imposing the anti-social offensive even further against the people.

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The legislative programme set out in the Queen's Speech, as taken from government sources, is outlined below.



Armed forces discipline reformed to bring into line with the European Commission on Human Rights; Care and children's homes standards; Child support, pensions and social security; Countryside amenities and conservation; Crime and the probation service; Criminal justice (mode of trial); E-communications; Financial services regulation; Freedom of information; Government resources and accounting; Investigatory powers of the state; Learning and skills councils; Local government; Northern Ireland policing; Political parties, elections and referendums spending; Post Office conversion; "Prevention of Terrorism" powers; Race Relations Act (amendment); "Representation of the People" legislation; Sexual offences (amendment); Transport; Trustee powers; Utilities regulation.


Children at 16 leaving care; Companies registration; Crown Prosecutions Inspectorate; Fur farming prohibition; Insolvency of companies; Limited liability partnerships; Nuclear non-proliferation agreements put into law; Regulatory reform; Special educational needs.


Commonhold and leasehold reform; International Criminal Court ratification; Water companies overhaul.

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Armed Forces Discipline Bill
Children (Leaving Care) Bill
Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill
Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate Bill
Electronic Communications Bill
Financial Services and Markets Bill
(Introduced in the 1998/99 session, will resume where left from)
Freedom of Information Bill
Fur Farming Prohibition Bill
Government Resources and Accounts Bill
Limited Liability Partnership Bill
Nuclear Safeguards Bill
Representation of the People Bill

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Youth & Students Page

Students Step Up Their Protests

Over 15,000 students marched through London on November 25 on the National Union of Students' National March for Education.

The aims of the march were the scrapping of tuition fees, the end to the hardship suffered by hundreds of thousands of students, and opposition to the low pay of the students who are forced to work because of their economic situation. The march was supported by a number of campus trade unions, and was led by student nurses straight from their eight-hour nightshifts. It culminated in a rally at Kennington Park. A number of marchers also staged a sit-down protest on Waterloo Bridge, which was broken up by the police.

Speaking of the aims of the demonstration, Andrew Pakes, NUS National President, said, "Education is more than just a soundbite. If the government is serious about education then they need to provide more investment and the current comprehensive spending review is the time and place to do it."

Students have been stepping up their demonstrations against the escalating anti-social offensive for a number of years, as grants have been cut, students loans introduced and tuition fees imposed. Society is still headed in the direction of the onus being on the individual student to pay, further education being denied to everyone and PFI-type projects introduced which maximise profits for the commercial concerns and absolve the government from increasing investment in education. In addition, students are marginalised from the decisions which affect their lives. Clearly, in opposition to this anti-social trend, students need to declare that education is a right and not a privilege, and wage their struggles on this basis.

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Students work long hours, for low pay

Students are working long hours, for low pay in unsafe working conditions, according to a survey published on November 23 by the National Union of Students. This snapshot survey into the pay and conditions of working students shows that over two thirds of students who work do so to meet basic living costs.

The NUS Students at Work Survey 1999 shows that:

  • Students are being poorly paid - The average rate of pay was £4.37 per hour. Using either the Council of Europe’s decency threshold (£6.90 per hour) or the Low Pay Unit’s low pay threshold (£6.38 per hour) as indicators, it is clear that most students are working in low pay jobs. This point is reinforced by the latest official pay statistics in the New Earning Survey 1999, average gross hourly earnings for adult earners are £10.03.

  • Students are working for 20 hours per week - The average employment hours of full time students per week are 13.3 hours, plus 6.5 hours overtime. This means that students are working for 20 hours a week to supplement their income.

  • There are health and safety problems at work - Just over a third of students questioned reported health and safety problems in the workplace. The health and safety issue mentioned most frequently – by 42% of those reporting a health and safety problem – was travelling home alone late at night or in the early hours because employers did not provide transport or were not willing to pay for taxis. 27% of working students stated that work had affected their health.

Other key findings:

  • Students are forced to work to meet their basic living costs - 36% of respondents work to pay basic living costs, 33% work to pay ‘basic living or study costs’.

  • Students’ jobs are not relevant to their chosen careers - the majority worked in ‘shops or supermarkets’ (31%), or ‘hotels, pubs or restaurants’ (42%). 90% of respondents said that their employment was not relevant to their chosen career.

  • Students’ jobs are not unionised - Only 25% of respondents said there was a recognised trade union in their workplace. 6% were asked if they wanted to join, just over half of which did join a trade union.

  • Students are poorly treated by their employer - Two thirds of students were doing the same job as permanently paid staff, but 29% of these students were being paid less than the full time staff. A minority of working students believed they were entitled to holiday pay or sick pay, even though the European Working Time Directive entitles workers to three weeks paid holiday each year. Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 an employer must give a written statement to every employee ‘not later then two months from beginning work’, yet 42% of respondents had no written employment contract at all.

  • Students’ work is having a detrimental impact on their studies - 59% of students claimed that work had affected their studies. 59% of those students stated that their studies had been ‘slightly affected’, but 15% of students stated that their studies had been affected either ‘badly’ or ‘very badly’. 38% of working students had missed lectures, 21% had failed to submit coursework and 48% of working students would have got higher grades if not employed. 40% of working students stated that their employment made it difficult to for them to take part in students’ union activities.

Of the 311 students surveyed (48% female, 52% male), the average age was 20.6 years.

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University Hires Debt-Collecting Firm

Middlesex University is employing a firm of debt collectors to chase unpaid fees, according to the Times Higher Education Supplement. Fee-paying students are being given just two months to begin payments before their case is handed over to a debt-collecting firm. It is understood that the debt collectors are pursuing unpaid fees from undergraduates, postgraduates and overseas students.

African graduates' bleak job prospects

A study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that graduates of African origin are seven times more likely to be unemployed compared to those of English origin. The information was gathered from data collected over 11 years from the government's labour force study.

Director-Worker Pay Gap Widest in Britain

The pay gap between directors and workers in British firms is wider than anywhere in Europe, according to a TUC report. Top executives earn up to 94 times as much as their average employee. This discrepancy is increasing as the directors get richer through both pay rises and perks of all kinds.

Gordon Brown Quotes IMF in Support of "Rigour"

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown said last week that there would be no relaxation of the government's tough grip on public finances. Gordon Brown quoted an IMF report which warned of "overheating pressures" in the economy. The Chancellor told The Times newspaper, in what was said to be a backing of interest rate rises, that the IMF report showed "the rigour of our approach is vital to stability and steady growth".

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Council Workers Successfully Strike

Workers employed by Wandsworth Council in South West London held a successful one-day strike on November 24. Around 3,000 workers severely disrupted local services in what they consider to be the first round in their battle with Wandsworth Council over sick pay.

Eighty percent of the workers who belong to UNISON had voted in favour of striking in response to the council's proposals to make staff work back or pay back days taken as sick leave. The scheme would force all workers who are off work on sick leave for more than five days to lose pay or have to make up the hours with over time. The workers walked out or called in "sick" in a campaign to defeat this stand of Wandsworth Council.

Chris Perry, Battersea and Wandsworth TUC co-ordinator, said that essential services had "ground to a halt" as staff picketed the council offices. He said, "We understand nine out of ten libraries have been forced to close and that 90 per cent of social services workers are off." UNISON branch officer, Donna Davies, said, "The council is trying to use intimidation tactics to push through these measures." She warned, "If Wandsworth get away with this it will set a precedent for councils in the rest of the country." Wandsworth UNISON secretary Janice Metcalfe pointed out the scheme would have a drastic effect on vulnerable workers such as the low-paid and single parents.

The Policy and Resources Committee of the council had been due to consider the proposals on November 24, but has now delayed the meeting until January. The Chairman of the Committee said that a number of councils, including Lambeth, are already using the Wandsworth model and have said it has been extremely successful. He did not say what the criteria were for judging its "success". It is known that, for example, a strike action is being planned by workers of the Haringey council in north London, which plans to dock the first two days of sick pay.

Geoff Martin, the UNISON London convenor, addressing a rally of the strikers, pointed out that the strike was a direct challenge to Tony Blair's notions that the class struggle is over and workers are keen to embrace "social partnership".

The schemes to attack those who are sick and force them to work when they are ill or suffer financial hardship and increased exploitation are part of the escalating anti-social offensive being carried out in response to the crisis in society. On the front of local government, Wandsworth Council is one of those which have been spearheading this offensive. Just over a year ago, they forced through cuts in the social services budget causing great hardship to the vulnerable and the community at large, in the face of vigorous protests and demonstrations by social workers and those affected in the community.

This further development underlines the necessity for the working class and people to work to defeat the anti-social offensive, and to put forward a pro-social programme which recognises the responsibility of society towards all its members and provides for increased investments in health, education and social services.

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Pensioners Demand their Rights

Many hundreds of pensioners held protest actions on November 24 to demand their rights.

Pensioners from across Britain gathered in a picket outside the Department of Social Security headquarters, angry at being at the brunt of the anti-social offensive.

A petition was handed in at Downing Street by the Greater London Pensioners. The petition called for the restoration of the link of pensions to earnings, the breaking of which has caused severe hardship. The petition also demanded an extra allowance of £20 for pensioners aged over 75, and basic pension levels set at a sufficient rate to ensure that the elderly do not have to claim means-tested income support. The spirit of the pensioners, who were there with their banners and placards, is to claim the pensions that are theirs by right.

Passers by gave the demonstrators a good reception with cars tooting their horns down Whitehall. Outside St Stephens entrance to the House of Commons, youngsters joined in singing with the pensioners.

A meeting was held in the Jubilee Room to give a declaration of the intent of the pensioners and the press invited. Such was the attendance that an overflow meeting of 100 or more people was held in another committee room at the initiative of the pensioners themselves. This was followed by a mass lobby of MPs, while others went into the public gallery. Such is the spirit of the pensioners that an eye-witness reports that one person smuggled in posters under his coat, and as the speaker's procession was passing displayed them, protesting at the "great pensions robbery"! The Sergeant at Arms would have detained him until the House had finished its sitting, had not medication been found on his person indicating his state of health.

The government claims that they "have to target the poorest first". This is typical of the government's logic whereby the claims of the various collectives of the people are not to be granted as of right, but are limited by the "cost" of the exercise.

This "third way" definition of welfare benefits is not acceptable to the pensioners. They are to demonstrate outside Parliament on December 7, and say they will return every week in the New Year until their demands are met.

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Letter to the Editor

On Capita Business Services and Old Age Pensioners

It would be hard to think of New Labour being short of an example of failure to relieve human needs in its Private Finance Initiative, but if it were then the methods of Capita Business Services would amply make good the deficiency and on a scale that has become a national scandal. Capita is a subsidiary of Cap Gemini International Finance Services a multi billion pound organisation. Capita specialises in rent collecting and is under contract to Lambeth Council and to other Councils throughout Britain to reduce the incidence of Housing Benefit on the premise of eliminating fraudulent claims.

A meeting to question and criticise Capita methods was held in Lambeth Town Hall on November 6, and Capita was invited to send a representative to defend its methods. It refused to send one. The Labour Party Councillors who proffered the contract to Capita were also asked to send representatives to answer questions from the platform, but refused to respond, although among other Labour Councillors, the Housing Benefits Executive Chief, Abigail Melville and Chief Whip, Peter O’Connell were found later to be skulking in silence at the back of the hall. The Capita contract is for eight years and includes a bonus if it reduces Housing Benefit to an irreducible level. It hasn’t as yet enjoyed a bonus, but then since there is no penalty clause in the contract, and it is being well paid for its services, there really isn’t much need for the bonus, although the fact that that is on offer adds to the kind of excesses that resulted in the meeting of complainants at the Town Hall.

To itemise the effects of Capita’s methods on Housing Benefit claimants, the audience at the town hall was comprised almost entirely of old age pensioners and single mothers. One old age pensioner stated that he had first claimed in October of 1998 and right through the year until October 1999 he had been issued with four court summonses; had been threatened with eviction and sequestration of property on the same number of occasions, for thousands of pounds back rent and hundreds of pounds Council Tax, and his experience was duplicated many times by OAPs and single mothers in the audience. Many others gave accounts of the oppressive experiences forced on them by Capita methods. One striking incident of this kind of oppression was of pensioners, man and wife, who had been evicted from their home. They were then offered alternative accommodation but demanded their home back. They slept at Heathrow Airport, using their pensioner passes to come and go from there while fighting for their rights.

A resolution was proposed at the meeting that the contract with Capita should be terminated. The audience passed it unanimously. It is rumoured that Michael Crich, Finance director, and others in the New Labour hierarchy are looking for a way to terminate Capita’s contract, and to bring the contract back into Council control. If this succeeds it will only be at great cost to the taxpayer, for Capita are not going to renounce an eight-year contract without substantial compensation. Even then, for the sake of those suffering under Capita it would be best that the contract should be terminated. All the more so should all contracts with Capita be terminated in that they are at this time seeking further Government contracts and are complaining that bad publicity is ruining their chances! They complained about this to Heather Rabbits the highly overpaid Chief Executive employed by Lambeth Council (£170,000 a year) and demanded that she stop all meetings critical of Capita’s activities. It would have been extremely difficult for an old age pensioner to find anything admirable to say about the Chief Executive, but if nothing admirable at least it must be admitted she deserved some thanks for refusing to ban such meetings, although the question should be what gives her the power to stop, if she so wishes, such meetings of Old Age Pensioners with legitimate complaints of abuses by a Lambeth Council contractor! This same contractor falsified its figures claiming that more than seventy per cent of claimants’ for Housing Benefit were dealt with within fourteen days of application. They later had to admit that was a mistake, but have not as yet published figures that would be acceptable to the Old Age Pensioners and single mothers as honest and fair. The final question for old age pensioners is, why should they be presented with intricate and confusing forms year after year, with complications resulting from mistakes made in filling them in, or by Capita delaying processing for its own purposes of trying to reduce the level of Housing Benefit? Should OAPs not have pensions adequate enough to pay rent without this economic obscenity of yearly having to prove they qualify for housing benefit, or alternatively to qualify for HB without this yearly ritual of running the economic gauntlet of form filling and having to prove that an eighty year old hasn’t suddenly begun to earn another income?. Perhaps if the Government stopped paying the rich and directed funds into dealing with these social problems, OAPs and Single Mothers wouldn’t have to meet to complain at meetings where the platform can make no promise to end the abuses of such an organisation as Capita.

South London Activist

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Wolfe Tone Society Holds Bobby Sands/James Connolly Commemoration

On Sunday, November 14, The Wolfe Tone Society organised the Annual Bobby Sands/James Connolly Commemoration in the Irish Centre, Camden Town, London. The Commemoration this year, as was stated by the chairperson in his introduction, was dedicated to the Republican prisoners, to the men and women who had given their lives, to those still incarcerated, to those who despite years of suffering at the hands of the British justice system are still committed to the cause of Irish freedom.

All of the speakers had been long-term prisoners in British jails in Ireland or England or were their relatives. Bik McFarlane commanded the Republican prisoners in the Maze during the hunger strikes and led the mass escape of 38 prisoners; Jackie McMullan as a 20 year old was one of the hunger strikers on his 48th day when the protest ended; Martina Anderson served 15 years, most in Durham prison's notorious women's wing; Nick Mullen, who chaired the Commemoration, was sentenced to 30 years and was moved from one British high-security prison to another; Jessica Mullen, cruelly seized into care by the state at 7 years old, spent ten years visiting her father at jail after jail. The former prisoners and their relatives spoke movingly and modestly about the years of incarceration, yet reflecting the courage and fortitude needed over so many years in the face of cruel and inhuman treatment. Most revealing was the fact that all the speakers without exception, who had been through so much, expressed great optimism and the fullest support for Sinn Fein's policies in the current complex and new phase of the struggle for the end of the British presence in Ireland and the reunification of the country.

Some moving poems and other writings by Bobby Sands and James Connolly were read to the Commemoration, as well as a poem by a Scottish soldier who had been in the firing squad that executed James Connolly in Dublin in 1916.

In his closing remarks Nick Mullen thanked all those in Britain who had supported the Republican prisoners over the years, mentioning in this context that RCPB(ML) had sent a message of support to the Commemoration and that this was greatly appreciated.

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Message to Bobby Sands/James Connolly Commemoration from RCPB(ML)

Dear Comrades,

We are very honoured once again to join with you in commemorating Bobby Sands, James Connolly and all those who have made and continue to make heroic sacrifices in the cause of Irish freedom. At a time when the British government once more is allowing the current peace process to founder, one question inevitably comes to mind. Why does not the British government heed the demand of progressive people the world over, put into deeds its words about acknowledging the sovereignty of the people of the island of Ireland, and declare immediate British withdrawal from the six counties? Only this would remove this age-old block to progress in both our islands.

Wishing you all success in your work.

Chris Coleman

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Anglo-French Summit:

Further Dangerous Militarisation of the European Union

Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac met in an Anglo-French Summit at the Foreign Office on November 25. The meeting and its "Declaration on European Defence" took forward the agreement made between Britain and France at St Malo on December 4, 1998. At that time, the two countries issued a joint declaration agreeing to work together on a common EU defence policy and strengthen a common foreign policy for the EU. That declaration underlined that the British and French governments would work together to create an EU framework for military initiatives, within NATO, but also outside NATO.

The November 25 declaration is in the nature of a joint call to the European Union to take various measures at its Helsinki Summit on December 10 to give the EU an autonomous military capacity for EU-led military operations. Tony Blair said that Britain and France are opening "a new era in our military relationship". According to Tony Blair, the declaration "is not about creating some single European army under a single command, it is not an attempt in any shape or form to supplant or compete with NATO. We are all quite clear on this, which is why NATO welcomed the European defence initiative at the Washington Summit earlier this year. It is about strengthening Europe's military effectiveness and capabilities in a way which will both reinforce and complement the NATO Alliance as the cornerstone of our defence, whilst enabling Europe to act effectively in situations where the Alliance as a whole is not engaged."

The Anglo-French Summit took place, it must be remembered, in the wake of the Anglo-American bombardment of Yugoslavia, and as American and British planes continue to patrol the "no-fly zones" of Iraq and bomb the Iraqi people. It must also be seen in the context of the Russian bombing of Chechnya, not to mention the imperialist contention in the Middle East and Africa. It can be seen that in all these areas the strategic and political interests of Britain and France do not coincide. Generally speaking, France has refused to go along with Anglo-US aims to impose a unipolar world under US domination, within which the Labour government is pursuing its role of "Making Britain Great Again". As part of this scenario, the US is aiming to dominate the whole of Europe, including and particularly the Balkans and strengthen the East-West axis through the Balkans into Turkey, the Middle East, Iraq and beyond. In this connection, the aim of Russia to keep Chechnya and the Caucasus under its control is of no local significance. In other words, through NATO and through control of the whole of Europe, in conjunction with its strategic manoeuvres in the Far East, it can move to dominate Asia, and therefrom the whole world. It goes without saying that this is a major force for world war and that the other big powers are certainly not content to sit idly by in the face of this US push for hegemony. Britain too has its designs on the world through its links with the Commonwealth, with the countries of the former Eastern European bloc, and generally speaking is pursuing its policy of "strong in Europe, strong with the US".

The US therefore welcomes a strong united Europe, provided only that it is the US that dominates it. This is where it comes into contention with Germany, France and other European powers. Attention can also be drawn to the facts that George Robertson is now Secretary General of NATO, while the former Secretary General, Javier Solana, on November 19 was confirmed as head of the Western European Union (WEU), a body around which there has long been contention among the European powers on its dual role and whether it should move in the direction of becoming the armed wing of the European Union or of being consolidated as the European pillar of NATO. Both Robertson and Solana were clearly mouthpieces for the US strategy during the bombing of Yugoslavia in April this year. Jose Cutileiro, whom Solana succeeds as secretary general of the WEU, said in a written statement: "Today, as he takes up the additional duties of WEU secretary-general, Mr Solana will be able to further his work of building a stronger Europe, thereby also strengthening the transatlantic link. I know how committed he is to the European security and defence identity and how much he has contributed to its development." Since stepping down as Secretary General of NATO, Solana has been the EU foreign policy chief or "tsar".

The so-called European Security and Defence Identity will initially consist of around 40,000 troops. Washington, however, has made it clear that it wants "the right of first refusal" to intervene in any "humanitarian" action. The US is opposed to the likelihood of the Helsinki Summit endorsing the plan for the implementation of this European and Security and Defence Identity.

The dangerous strengthening of the EU military capabilities, as with the NATO new strategic initiative, is carried out with talk of "humanitarian" aims and intervention for "ethical" ends. In this, Tony Blair and the Labour government are playing a particularly vile and despicable role. The words are of fine ideals, but the complex web of military alliances and inter-imperialist contradictions spells disaster and reaction for the world's people. Not only do the people suffer in these equations, but the leaders of the big powers pursue their ends with all the arrogance of the divine right of kings. At the same time, the arms dealers and manufacturers make a killing and their interests are thriving. The recently announced merger between German arms firm DASA and France's Aerospatiale Matra, coupled with the consolidation of the Euro as the single currency for the EU, only bolsters the EU as a military as well as an economic and political superpower, in dangerous contention with other big power blocs.

At a time when the world has been marking the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the second world war, it is especially necessary for workers and democratic people to go into these matters in all seriousness and consider what are the Hitlerite policies now being pursued on a world scale. Overall, at a time when the 21st century is practically upon us, the big powers are trying to strangle everything that is new and human from coming into being. It is therefore imperative that the working class should step up its opposition to all imperialism and prepare the ground for social revolution. This is the sure way to prevent the disasters that the imperialist powers and their military and other alliances are preparing for the peoples of the world.

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UK-French Declaration On European Defence


Full Text as Released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, 25 November, 1999

1. A year ago in St Malo, Britain and France launched together a major initiative aimed at building European security and defence. This paved the way for the progress made at Cologne.

2. In the Kosovo crisis, our two countries played a major role in working for a political settlement and in NATO's military operations. This crisis reinforced our conviction that the European nations need to increase their defence capabilities, thus enabling them to conduct effective EU-led operations as well as playing their full role in Alliance operations.

3. We therefore call on the European Council in Helsinki to take a decisive step forward for the development of those military capabilities and for the setting up of the political and military instruments necessary to use them. This is necessary to give the EU the autonomous capacity to take decisions and, where the Alliance as a whole is not engaged, to launch and then to conduct EU-led military operations.

4. We are fully convinced that, by developing our military capabilities, while reinforcing the EU's capacity for action, we will also contribute directly and substantially to the vitality of a modernised Atlantic Alliance, by making a stronger and more balanced partnership. NATO remains the foundation of our collective defence and will continue to have an important role in crisis management. We expect NATO and the EU to develop a close and confident relationship.

5. Our top priorities must therefore be to strengthen European military capabilities without unnecessary duplication. We call on the European Union at the Helsinki Summit to:

  • Set itself the goal of Member States, cooperating together, being able to deploy rapidly and then sustain combat forces which are militarily self-sufficient up to Corps level with the necessary command, control and intelligence capabilities, logistics, combat support and other combat service support (up to 50,000-60,000 men) and appropriate naval and air combat elements. All these forces should have the full range of capabilities necessary to undertake the most demanding crisis management tasks.
  • Urge the Member States to provide the capabilities to deploy in full at this level within 60 days and within this to provide some smaller rapid response elements at very high readiness. We need to be able to sustain such a deployment for at least a year. This will require further deployable forces (and supporting elements) at lower readiness to provide replacements for the initial force.
  • Develop rapidly capability goals in the fields of command and control, intelligence and strategic lift. In this respect:
  • We are ready to make available the UK's Permanent Joint Headquarters and France's Centre Operational Interarmees and their planning capabilities as options to command EU-led operations. As part of this, we intend to develop standing arrangements for setting up multinationalised cells within these Headquarters, including officers from other EU partners.
  • We want European strategic airlift capabilities to be strengthened substantially. We intend to work urgently with our allies and partners on ways to achieve this. We note the common European need for new transport aircraft. We have today taken an important bilateral step by signing an agreement on logistics which will include arrangements by which we can draw on each other's air, sea and land transport assets to help deploy rapidly in a crisis.
  • We welcome the ongoing transformation of the Eurocorps into a rapid reaction corps as decided by the five Eurocorps members in Cologne, which will contribute to giving the EU a more substantial capacity to undertake crisis management tasks, in particular by providing it with a deployable Headquarters. Our two countries intend this to be a contribution to the enhancement of key assets available both to the EU and NATO. The UK is ready, in due course and with the agreement of the Eurocorps members, to provide British forces to the Eurocorps HQ for specific operations as the Eurocorp nations have already done in the case of the British-led Ace Rapid Reaction Corps.

6. We also call on the Helsinki European Council to set a clear target date and appropriate review and consultation mechanisms to ensure that these goals are reached. Our work towards the achievement of these objectives and those arising from NATO's DCI will be mutually reinforcing. We also welcome the contributions of the non-EU European Allies and of WEU Associate Partners to this improvement of European military capabilities.

7. In addition to the decisions on military capabilities, we call on the European Union at Helsinki to:

  • Set out the political and military structures to enable the Council to take decisions on EU-led military operations, to ensure the necessary political control and strategic direction of such operations and, to this end, to endorse the proposal which the UK and France have put forward on the role and composition of a Military Committee and a military staff and the planning and conduct of EU-led operations.
  • Provide the basis for participation of non-EU European Allies and the involvement of WEU Associate Partners in EU-led operations.
  • Underline the need to develop thereafter modalities for full co-operation, consultation and transparency between the EU and NATO.

8. We reaffirm our conviction that strengthened European defence capabilities need the support of a strong and competitive European defence industry and technology. The restructuring of the European aerospace and defence industry is a major step which will help to improve competition in the global market. We welcome this recent consolidation and restructuring of European defence companies and, in the same spirit, give our full support to the finalisation of the Letter of Intent. The strengthening of our armaments industry will foster the development of European technological capabilities and will allow transatlantic cooperation to develop in a spirit of balanced partnership. We look forward to early progress toward the establishment of Airbus as a single commercial business with a fully united management.

9. We are committed to the efforts being made to harmonise future defence equipment requirements. The successful cooperation between the UK and France, together with Italy, on the Principal Anti-Air Missile System - which will provide world class air defence for our Navies well into the next century - is a good example of how we work together. So too are the French SCALP and the UK's Storm Shadow programme for a long range precision guide air to ground missile, which is based on the proven French Apache missile. We are partners too with Germany on the future medium range anti-armour weapon for our respective infantry.

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Blair Offers HQ for EU Military Force

It was reported in the press that at the end of the Anglo-French summit, the government announced that it had offered Britain's permanent joint headquarters at Northwood to command future EU-led military operations. France has offered its Centre Opérational Interarmées headquarters. For the first time, the government said it was ready to supply military forces to the five-state Eurocorps, though only for headquarters staff. Until now, the British government has always rejected participation in the Eurocorps, which has been seen as a step towards building a European Army. Foreign Office sources in this connection said that there was still no intention at this stage to contribute fighting troops to Eurocorps. Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain are the countries which at present contribute armed units for Eurocorps. The projection is to build a European rapid deployment force of between 50,000 and 60,000 troops.

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The Commonwealth – Anachronistic and Reactionary Institution

The biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was held in Durban, South Africa, from November 12-15. It was attended by the vast majority of the leaders of its 53 member states.

The Commonwealth used to be known as the "British Commonwealth", but is now presented as a "modern association of independent equals". However, this is standing truth on its head as the Commonwealth is dominated by Britain, one of the leading big world powers, and also includes many of the world’s poorest countries. Through the Commonwealth, Britain interferes in the economic, social, political and military affairs of the member states. The recent summit highlighted the fact that this organisation of mainly former British colonies is a means to further the political and economic designs of Britain and other countries, and is an anachronism on the eve of the 21st century.

The basis of the "modern" Commonwealth is the Harare Declaration of 1991, which enshrines the values of the Paris Charter signed by the countries of Europe in 1990, as well as by the US and Canada. This document was a declaration by the bourgeoisie of the big powers, under the sway of the monopolies, to impose on the whole world their conception of "free market economy", pluralism and human rights, and to enslave the world with these Eurocentrist values.

The Harare "Principles" are the means by which Britain, as the leading player in the Commonwealth, justifies its continued intervention and interference in its former colonies such as Sierra Leone, Nigeria, South Africa and most recently Pakistan.

Even before the Durban Summit, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, had set out the government’s aims for the Commonwealth in the next century and attempted to justify its continued existence. According to Cook, "globalisation gives the Commonwealth the potential to play an important role in the new century", but he might have added that this would be by furthering the interests of the monopolies in their pursuit of maximum profits in the global market. Cook’s championing of enslaving "development aid", "greater private sector investment to Commonwealth countries" and "the benefits of free trade" are simply the means to continue the imperialist plunder of the countries of Africa and Asia for the benefit of the monopolies, as if they were still part of the Empire. However, during the summit the poorer countries are reported to have strongly opposed the view that free trade was beneficial for all and demanded that the Commonwealth take action to defend their interests at the forthcoming meeting of the World Trade Organisation.

Cook was also keen that the Commonwealth becomes "a focus of action in support of democracy, human rights and good government". In other words, a vehicle for intervention and interference throughout the world in which Britain will play a leading role. The summit not only accepted this proposal, but also began to discuss ways in which it could extend such interference.

The days of Britain’s "empire" are long gone, and yet the Labour government still maintains the imperialist logic of the nineteenth century by claiming that by the means of free trade, interference and "partnership" it aims to further the interests of the some of the world’s poorest countries. The fact is that after what Cook refers to as "the first half century of the Commonwealth’s history", the poorest countries are getting poorer and the Commonwealth remains what it has always been, a means to further the big power interests of Britain throughout the world. It is now an integral part of Labour’s reactionary aim to "Make Britain Great Again". Britain’s continued intervention and interference in the affairs of other countries, carried out in the interests of the monopolies, must be condemned. All neo-colonial ties such as those maintained through the Commonwealth must be brought to an end.

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