WORKERS' WEEKLY Vol. 29, No. 5, February 13, 1999


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Newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)

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Article Index


The Workers Must Politically Activate Themselves to Lead Society Out of the Crisis

No to British and Other NATO Armed Forces in Kosova! The Diktat of the Big Powers Must Be Opposed!

20th Anniversary of Iranian Revolution: The Path of Independence Is Very Precious

For Your Information: BMW and the Crisis in the Car Industry

Letter to the Editor: Rover Struggle and the Exposure of “Fairness at Work” Bill

Birmingham Branch Begins Study of Congress Preparatory Material

Annual CILRECO Meeting Held in Brussels

CILRECO Joint Statement of the Political Parties and Organisations

NEWS IN BRIEF

More People Face Poverty in Old Age

Small Companies in Danger

Economy on "Brink of Recession"

Job Cuts and Downturn in Manufacturing

Unemployment Set to Rise


Rover Crisis:

The Workers Must Politically Activate Themselves to Lead Society Out of the Crisis

ON FEBRUARY 5, the BMW Board sacked the Chairman Bernard Pischetsrieder and his deputy Wolfgang Reitzie over the handling of Rover. The new Board of BMW, chaired by Joachim Milberg, has given itself a fortnight to decide on the future of its British subsidiary Rover with increasing speculation that they will close Rover’s Longbridge plant in Birmingham.

Rover

Only a few weeks previously BMW had signed a deal with the unions that was heralded as proving that “partnership is now the central focus of British industrial relations”. The deal was to keep the plant open but with the loss of 2,500 jobs, a demand from BMW that the government provide around £200 million in aid to investment, and the introduction of further “flexibility” which involves the loss of paid overtime and the introduction of a “banked hours” system. Now, having imposed this deal on the workers using the threat that only such a deal would “secure” the future of Longbridge and by causing contradictions with workers either not at the threatened plant or who were opposed to the deal, the BMW Board has torn up its part of this deal and is unilaterally to decide the future of Rover and whether to close Longbridge. In response to this situation unions at the plant are demanding a guarantee about the long-term future of the plant and are calling on BMW to “honour” the agreement.

The issue that confronts the workers is how they should view the exposure of this “partnership” agreement and take steps to transform the situation. Of course, BMW should honour its commitment to the future of production at Longbridge. But there can be no illusions that they will tear up any deal if it suits them – any deal whatsoever, however many concessions the workers are forced to make. And if not in two weeks time, it will tear it up in the future, whether the government intervenes and hands over £200 million or not. So for example, in imposing this agreement under New Labour’s heralded “social partnership” just a few weeks ago, BMW tore up the previous “Landmark New Deal” imposed in 1992 by Rover under the Conservatives which was supposed to secure the future of Longbridge and secure “jobs for life” and this agreement itself was imposed by tearing up another agreement beforehand and so on. So, the workers know to their cost that such deals are not made in their interest and give them no guarantee whatsoever that their livelihoods will be secure or guaranteed.

In this situation, workers themselves must come to terms with the reality. This reality shows that they can have no illusions that those in power have a shred of responsibility not only for their livelihoods but for the interests of society as a whole. The cost to the economy of the West Midlands is being raised. Very well. But should not the workers also raise the cost to society if the situation is allowed to continue where people’s elementary claims on society count as nothing?

In this “partnership” which the government is overseeing, decisions are not taken by the people who live and work in the economy and in whose interests the economy should be run. Such decisions are taken in the boardrooms of increasingly larger and larger multinationals whose interests are not the interest of the workers, nor the interest of the national economies of the countries in which they operate, nor the interest of society. Their only interest is to counter the falling rate of profit at the expense of any other consideration and on behalf of the financial oligarchy they represent and to use their power to rob the state treasuries of countries in which they operate in pursuit of this aim. So how is the £200 million subsidy from the government who have suddenly become “concerned” going to change anything, going to deal with these problems when the interests of society demand that the economy is planned to meet the needs of the people.

The reality is that it is the working class that has the answer to these problems. The outlook of the workers must become one of confronting these conditions that are bringing such disasters all over the country. It is the workers recognising that it is not only in their interest but in the interest of society that the working class should take the lead. Taking the lead means the workers themselves becoming political and not relying on MPs to do something, or entrusting this task to anyone else. It means not becoming overwhelmed or fazed by the intensity and scope of these plans of the monopoly companies and of government to extract more and more from the workers such as is happening with the Rover workers at Longbridge. Taking a lead means workers in ever increasing numbers taking a political stand and fighting with the perspective that the direction of the economy should be changed so that the economy meets the needs and serves the interests of the people. Also, it means opposing the economy being used to serve the interests of the monopolies and paying the rich. It means that it is the people that should be empowered in the political process so as to take the decisions on how their factories and communities and the national economy and society are run and where the rights of all the people are guaranteed and inviolable. What is required is the emergence of such worker politicians whose primary concern is that the working class can lead society out of the crisis and create new arrangements to unite the working class around its own independent programme that will provide such a way out of the crisis.

Article Index



No to British and Other NATO Armed Forces in Kosova! The Diktat of the Big Powers Must Be Opposed!

ON FEBRUARY 6, representatives of the Serbian and Yugoslav governments and representatives of the people of Kosova began what have been described as “peace talks” in Rambouillet, France. The talks are due to conclude at the end of next week. The talks follow months of escalating violence in which over 2,000 people have been killed and 300,000 made homeless. This has occurred as a result of the repression of the Albanian population of Kosova by the Serbian authorities and a denial of their right to sovereignty. Armed conflict has escalated between the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) and the Yugoslav armed forces.

The talks have been imposed on the participants by the big powers of the so-called Contact Group (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Italy and the US), which backed up their demands with the threat of military force and other measures. Further threats including military action have been issued to force rapid acceptance of the “framework document” issued by the Contact Group. This allows for autonomy for Kosova within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for a limited period of three years, but falls short of the self-determination which is the aspiration and demand of the Kosovan people. During the three-year period an international military force comprising an estimated 30,000 NATO troops would occupy Kosova, and at the end of that period its status will be reviewed under “international auspices”.

Defence Secretary George Robertson has announced that British army tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles are to be dispatched to the Balkans ready to join a NATO “peacekeeping force”, and 8,000 troops have been put on standby. They are presently stationed in Germany, and the government has announced that shipment of the armaments will begin on Monday.

Which international authority has given the Contact Group a mandate to interfere in the affairs and threaten the peoples of this region? They have no such mandate nor can one be justified. Nor do Britain and the big powers have any right to make pronouncements about the future of Kosova and turn it into what is already being seen as a “de facto international protectorate”.

Yugoslavia has stated that it is totally opposed to any deployment of NATO troops in Kosova, but supports Contact Group attempts to put further pressure on the representatives of the Kosovars to sign a declaration guaranteeing Yugoslavia’s borders, an act which would be tantamount to denying their own rights to self-determination. The KLA on the other hand is said to welcome the involvement of NATO. However, it is already clear that the big powers will continue to impose their agenda for Kosova, and are intent on violating the territorial borders of Yugoslavia, and trampling on the rights of the peoples of the region whatever agreements are signed in France. Their actions, proposals for the future of Kosova and the “peace talks” are not designed to bring peace to the region nor to recognise the rights of the Kosovars and other peoples in the Balkans. On the contrary their aim is to perpetuate instability in the region and provide the pretext for further intervention.

The attempts by Britain and other big powers to impose their diktat by armed force in Kosova and elsewhere in the Balkans must be condemned. What must be supported are the rights of the peoples of the Balkans and especially the rights of the people of Kosova to self-determination, the right to exercise their sovereignty and to determine their own futures free from outside interference.

Article Index


20th Anniversary of Iranian Revolution:

The Path of Independence Is Very Precious

ON FEBRUARY 11, 1979, the Iranian people overthrew the government of Shapour Bakhtiar, which the Shah of Iran had appointed before he was toppled by the powerful movement of the people. This was a victory not only against the hated feudal Pahlavi dynasty, but first and foremost against US imperialism which had installed the Shah and maintained him in power. US imperialism has never been reconciled to this victory of the Iranian people nor to the opposition to its dictate throughout the Islamic world. In the months following, it did everything to intervene to reverse the Iranian revolution and re-establish its dominance in this strategic area of the Middle East. Eventually, it was instrumental in fomenting the Iran/Iraq war which cost thousands of lives and was fuelled by the munitions of the imperialist arms dealers. In this situation, the task of the Iranian people has been to persist in their path of independent development and build on their victory against the forces of world imperialism and the attempts of these forces to denigrate the Iranian people for not accepting the imposition of Eurocentric and Anglo-American values.

After the second world war, the democratic movement in Iran, led by Mossadeq, had struck a blow against British colonialism and its control of the oil resources of Iran, seizing state power and nationalising the oil industry. However, utilising the CIA and reactionary military forces, the US imperialists installed the brutal Shah of Iran in 1953, as they have intervened throughout the world wherever the people have attempted to take power. To this day, any country that attempts an independent foreign policy is singled out for punishment and isolation by US imperialism and its allies. All who choose a different system not to the liking of the US imperialists and others are threatened with extinction if they do not conform.

Since the victory of the Iranian revolution, the world has gone through a decisive turning point. The bi-polar division of the world between two superpowers, US imperialism and Soviet social imperialism, has come to an end. US imperialism has attempted to impose its hegemony, a unipolar world under its aegis, while other powers have contested these attempts in the interests of establishing a multi-polar world.

In this situation, the US has targeted those states which it labels as “rogue states”. The US openly calls a country a rogue if it does not agree with the dictate of the US imperialists. Anyone who questions American interests or policy becomes an outlaw state and a united front is organised against them. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been declared a rogue state in this fashion so as to justify the unjustifiable against them. The US has imposed embargoes and blockades against these states. As well as Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it is the Islamic states which have been singled out by US imperialism. In the Gulf region it has launched the criminal wars and aggressions against Iraq, while it has sought a policy of containment of Iran. Naturally, US imperialism is concerned to ensure its oil supplies from the Gulf region also, and to maintain a long-term military presence in the region.

The path of independence is very precious. The people of any country have a right to their sovereignty and must be allowed to exercise this right with absolutely no interference from the US or any other big power. This is the only just position as the world is poised to enter the 21st century. Any attempt to subvert Iran or interfere in its affairs must be resolutely opposed by progressive forces world-wide. Workers’ Weekly expresses its confidence that the Iranian people will persist in following this path of independent development in building the prosperity of their country and upholding its rights, and wishes them well on this 20th anniversary of the Iranian revolution.  

Article Index


FOR YOUR INFORMATION


BMW and the Crisis in the Car Industry

BMW is at present using the crisis it has created with its speculation over the future of Rover’s Longbridge car plant to advance its interests in the increasingly sharpening competition and overproduction of cars as giant monopolies strive to consume the world’s car industry and dominate production.

Rover’s January sales almost halved from its 1997 level of 20,558 to 11,218, far exceeding the industry fall of 22 per cent. Last year BMW bemoaned a fall in its profits which still reached £130m. Questions as to whether BMW should ditch the mass car market by closing, or offloading Longbridge and keeping the lucrative Land Rover section to go with its profitable luxury car market, or whether it should invest in mass car production at Longbridge or elsewhere, or even merge with another car monopoly are considerations that are reported to be uppermost in the discussions going on behind the scenes of the supervisory board of BMW now chaired by Joachim Milberg.

Whilst on the one hand the company is threatening a disaster which will affect an estimated 64,000 jobs in the West Midlands costing the local economy £1 billion, on the other it has received massive backing from the financial oligarchy for these considerations which has led to an 8% rise in the share price of BMW at the prospect of a rise in profits for BMW even if these means the closure of Rovers factory at Longbridge. So for example, it is reported that the Quandt family, which controls 46% of the shares of the BMW group and the main influence on the supervisory board are behind what sparked this present crisis when they demanded the removal of the Chairman of BMW over his handling of Rover and its insufficient profits. The father of Herbert Quandt, who acquired a majority stake in BMW in 1959, had been an economic adviser to Hitler, and his mother later married the Nazi minister of propaganda, Josef Goebbels. As one newspaper report put it: “It seems that the legacy which goes back to the Nazi period of careful product planning and business secrecy is safe in the hands of the Quandt family, even if the British motor industry is not.”

Also, this speculation by BMW over the future of Longbridge is being used to “make a strong pitch” for government aid. This is especially since the supervisory boards sacked the Chairman and deputy chairman and replaced them over the handling of Rover and the agreement they had just concluded with the unions which was supposed to secure the future of mass car production at Longbridge. BMW has been compiling studies that are reported to show that the cars produced at Longbridge could be built more cheaply in countries outside the EU. It is reported BMW will be in further talks with Stephen Byers, Labours Trade and Industry Secretary and that BMW will be negotiating, or renegotiating for aid between £150m to £300m. Such a sum is as much as the £200m that BMW paid to Honda for its 20% stake in Rover, yet Stephen Byers is reported as saying that the government will only be making the “strongest possible recommendation to BMW about the importance of Longbridge in particular and of the Rover Group to the UK [economy]” in the face of what amounts to blackmail tactics of BMW to rob the state treasury for these investments for modernisation of the Longbridge plant or move elsewhere.

This latest crisis at Rover reflects the situation which is continuing at Ford and throughout the car industry. Volvo has already closed its factory in Ayrshire with a loss of 250 jobs to coincide with its take-over by Ford.  

Article Index


LETTER TO THE EDITOR


Rover Struggle and the Exposure of “Fairness at Work” Bill

THE LEAD ARTICLE IN Workers’ Weekly, Volume 29, No. 4, on the “Fairness at Work” Bill is very good in exposing the reactionary nature of such a bill.

One would think from its title that this would be a Bill to highlight and deal with all the unfair practices that workers are subject to. Instead, under the guise of recognising and wanting to redress the situation, the workers are being sidelined into discussions on “social partnership” between government, employers and unions and where the “balance” should be in this partnership.

I was thinking of this in the light of the Rover struggle. Today we heard that a “Rover alliance” has been launched by councils in Birmingham, Solihull and Oxford (all have Rover plants) to pledge civic support for the survival of Longbridge and is writing to new BMW chairman Joachim Milberg to stress the catastrophic effects of closing Longbridge. Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers visited the plant on Monday for “crucial talks”, while TGWU National Secretary, Tony Woodley, was adamant that the deal brokered in December of last year to save the plant still stands. There is talk of BMW approaching the government for cash aid and today it was reported that in an interview the Quandts family (owning 47% of the company shares) has reaffirmed its support for BMW. Does all this mean that the balance is swinging in favour of the workers? I don’t think so. 2500 jobs are already gone, there is no guarantee for the remaining workers that there will be no more redundancies in the future, those left in work now have to follow more restrictive and exploitative working practices and the news is that Rover plans to “export” these practices to its component suppliers to streamline production. The balance seems to be very much in favour of the owners of the company who, as in the case of the Quandts family– personal fortune £9.2 billion mostly earned through expropriating the labour of BMW workers – whether the plant remains open or not can walk away from the problem with their wealth intact. These people, the rich monopoly capitalist class, hold all the levers, and while they remain in power supported by whatever government of the day, there can never be a balance in favour of the workers. Any attempt to suggest that there can be is to disarm the workers and turn them away from demanding, as of right, that the economy be run in their interests and that they control the wealth of society, earned through the produce of their labour.

Reader in Birmingham  

Article Index


Birmingham Branch Begins Study of Congress Preparatory Material

The Birmingham Branch of RCPB(ML) met recently to discuss the documents of the Second 1998 National Consultative Conference, focusing on the editorial policy of Workers’ Weekly, strengthening the newspaper and building its distribution among the working class and people. Also on the agenda was discussion on the resolution “On the Consolidation and Strengthening of Workers’ Weekly” of the same Conference (see Workers’ Weekly, Vol.28, No.33, December 12-19, 1998).

The discussion was quite a long one and the Branch discussed the practicalities of writing for the paper and the significance of the struggle to Improve the Content, Extend the Readership of Workers’ Weekly. It affirmed that the content of the struggle at this time was to implement the resolution and reach this stage of the work before Congress. The successful completion of this work is crucial to the Party moving on to the next phase of its work.

The Birmingham Branch looked at all the fronts of coverage of the paper as laid out in the presentation to the National Consultative Conference. Comrades were urged to consider these in the light of the general line and perspective appearing in Workers’ Weekly and to write articles from their own experience and study. The question of “consistency” was raised in this context, and after brief discussion it was agreed that this means writing regularly on a particular theme or topic to strengthen and develop the analysis and general line on every front, using examples from the struggles of the people and the political life of the country, for example on the workers’ struggles or the national question, to give life and substance to the general political line and the necessity for the working class to build its own independent programme.

The Branch considered the question of whether it could be said that Workers’ Weekly has a weakness because the Party is not involved in many fronts of struggle and that we “have to go to the workers to get answers”. It concluded that though it may be true the Party is small and it is impossible to be everywhere because of resources, nevertheless the strength of the Party is in its political line, as outlined in There is a Way Out of the Crisis, and in particular Workers’ Weekly is also a strength. The important thing, the Branch considered, is for the Branch to contribute to the consolidation of the work going on around Workers’ Weekly. In this context, it is important to study and do research and write to the paper on this, particularly issues the Branch is closely involved with, and articles which arise out of its social practice.

The Birmingham Branch agreed on work to carry out in preparation for its next meeting. In particular, it agreed to study” Necessity for Change” by Hardial Bains and prepare a precis and articles on its study.  

Article Index


Annual CILRECO Meeting Held in Brussels

ON FEBRUARY 6, the International Liaison Committee for Reunification and Peace in Korea (CILRECO) held an extended meeting of its presidency in Brussels. Representatives of political and social organisations and personalities attended from Algeria, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Holland, India, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the USA, as well as a delegation from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Participants from Britain were Keith Bennett of Korean Friendship and Solidarity Campaign, Andy Brooks of NCP, Chris Coleman of RCPB(ML) and Hugh Stephens of Institute of Independence Studies.

In his introductory report Guy Dupre, Secretary-General of CILRECO, pointed out that the first World Conference for Solidarity with the Independent and Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which had given birth to CILRECO, had been held in Brussels in 1977. M. Dupre spoke of the work of CILRECO over those 22 years and reviewed the present situation on the Korean peninsula and the priorities for the solidarity movement. He said US strategy was clear: to increase tensions as a pretext to justify a military strike against North Korea. At the same time, by violating their commitments by maintaining the 50 year blockade and imposing new sanctions when the country and its people had suffered terrible natural disasters, the US confirmed its strategy to suppress socialist Korea. He said that the situation was dangerous not only for reunification and thus the future of the Korean nation, but for stability, security and peace in the region and beyond. He urged that solidarity action with the Korean people in the coming months should focus on creating a public movement demanding true negotiations between the DPRK and the USA in order to reach a reliable peace agreement between the two countries.

The head of the delegation from the DPRK, Ho Sop, representing the Korean Committee for Solidarity with the People of the World, began his speech by thanking CILRECO for its efforts, which he said had played an important role over the last 22 years. Its work had been a great encouragement to the Korean people struggling in difficult circumstances to achieve reunification. Made up of different tendencies, ideological and political, it had the common aim of the reunification of Korea. He went on to brief delegates on the current situation in Korea and on the policies of the DPRK in achieving peace and reunification.

Discussion took place on the programme proposals of CILRECO for 1999. It was decided that CILRECO’s interventions should concentrate on the following three objectives:

(1) To reach a peace agreement between the DPRK and the USA involving the withdrawal of all US troops based in south Korea.

(2) To promote the reunification plan through a realistic and fair confederal way as per the orientations put forward by President Kim Il Sung.

(3) That the south Korean authorities abandon their dependency policies towards the United States in order to allow the reconciliation and the union of the Korean nation for the reunification of the country.

A number of specific recommendations were agreed regarding anniversaries, including those of the Kwanjou insurrection, June 17-23; Kim Il Sung’s 10 point programme for a broad national union for the reunification of the country, April; international month of solidarity, June 25-July 27; liberation from Japan, August 15; founding of DPRK, September 9; month of support to reunification plan through confederal system, October 1-31.

A joint statement was issued, signed by all the participants, regarding the recent letter sent by the DPRK on February 3 to the south Korean authorities and to the south Korean and foreign political parties, social organisations and individuals.(see below).  

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Joint Statement of the Political Parties and Organisations

We have received with deep concern the letter that the government, political parties and organisations of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) adopted and sent on February 3 to the south Korean authorities, and to the south Korean and foreign political parties, social organisations and individuals.

As mentioned in the letter, the reason for the tense situation on the Korean peninsula which is bordering on war and delaying the reunification of Korea, lies in the occupation of south Korea by the United States, the confrontation policy of south Korea against the DPRK and their dependent policy on outside forces.

The government, political parties and organisations of the DPRK proposed in the letter that the south Korean authorities should abandon the dependent policy on outside forces, take the road of national independence and great national unity, regard the three principles of independence, peace and great national unity as the starting point for the dialogue of reunification, stop “joint action” and joint military exercises with the United States, abolish the notorious “National Security Law”, stop calling the north “the main enemy” and have a broad dialogue with the north on reunification. We fully support the new proposal.

The south Korean authorities forbid anyone to have dialogue or exchange with the north, deny the three principles adopted commonly between the north and the south of Korea for the realisation of the reunification issue, carry out “joint action” with the United States against the DPRK, and keep unchanged the “National Security Law”.

We strongly demand that the south Korean authorities should instantly take measures to pave the way for the realisation of national reunification through dialogue on the principles of national independence and great national unity.

Signed

Brussels, February 7, 1999  

Article Index


NEWS IN BRIEF


More People Face Poverty in Old Age

The number of people heading for poverty in old age is rising, according to a report commissioned by Fleming Investment Trust. The survey estimted that a total of 13 million people will face financial hardship in old age, on current savings and investment. This is an increase of three million on similar figures compiled in 1996. The research found in particular that fewer men could count on savings to avert poverty in old age. These findings come shortly after Tony Blair has complained of the existence of a “something for nothing” society.

Small Companies in Danger


Up to 800 small companies may soon be forced from the equity markets because they are being starved of investment, according to a Department of Trade and Industry report published on February 8. The combined value of these small companies only equals that of the one oil monopoly BP Amoco, which began trading as a £84 billion merged group last month. The DTI suggests that two fifths of Britain’s companies quoted on the stock market could be excluded from this means of raising capital.

The report comes as the wave of “mega-mergers” is giving concern in the City of London and the financial institutions that the FTSE stock exchange index of 100 companies is being dominated by the top ten British companies. They point out that a few big deals in the banking or pharmaceutical sectors could concentrate 30 per cent of the index in just three companies.

Economy on “Brink of Recession”

The Bank of England warned on February 10 that growth would be “close to zero” for the first half of this year. This would bring Britain perilously close to recession. After that, it expects gross domestic product growth to reach only 0.5 to 1 per cent for 1999 as a whole.

The Monetary Policy Committee also said that international conditions had led to a “sharp deterioration in prospects for the world economy” since its last report in November.


Job Cuts and Downturn in Manufacturing

According to the latest UK purchasing managers’ index, published at the beginning of the month, a run-down in inventories and job cuts by British manufacturers dragged down activity in the manufacturing sector of the economy. Output and new orders remained well below the 50 “break even” level, which implies activity in the sector is shrinking. Manufacturers in Britain also increased the pace of redundancies and sold stocks, according to the index.


Unemployment Set to Rise

Unemployment is set for a dramatic rise, Bank of England Governor Eddie George and the CBI have both warned.

Giving evidence to a House of Lords Committee on the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee at the end of January, the Bank of England Governor said that last year’s increases in interest rates were responsible for job losses. He still defended their introduction, however. At the same time, the CBI predicted that 41,000 manufacturing jobs would be lost by the end of March.

 

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