Issue 241 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

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ASYLUM SEEKERS

Time to back refugees

Trade unionists and students united in Washington DC to disrupt the World Bank and IMF

The news that Bill Morris had attacked New Labour for whipping up racism against asylum seekers had me cheering over my cornflakes.

Just a few weeks ago a Home Office minister told lorry drivers to buy themselves devices which seek out human breath. Morris spoke out just as Straw used his new powers to ban any asylum seeker from moving into Kent.

Morris is exactly right. The attempt to win more votes from the most bigoted little Englanders has put racism onto the agenda for the local elections. It is only the right who gain from racism. Look at the recent spate of racist attacks. The atmosphere being built up around asylum seekers has allowed the Nazis to circulate anonymous 'joke' hatred sheets and then to get permission from Straw to organise a march in Margate.

Many people are sickened by the bigots' competition. In Margate the march was halted en route because the police--suited, booted and armed with the Tory Criminal Justice Act--were not able to simply bash in the heads of so many local people who came out to oppose the Nazis. Hundreds of thousands of people see through the scapegoating for what it is. Morris's statement is important because it articulates that disgust and gives us a way of organising to shape the debate. Look at the way Diane Abbott got confidence to speak out publicly following Morris.

Morris has shown the best side of trade unionism--real solidarity. Now we must fight to spread that message across society. In every workplace petitions should circulate congratulating Morris and demanding that their union leaders back him and put out a public statement defending asylum seekers. Every union should be organising meetings to answer the media lies and organising committees to welcome asylum seekers dispersed--ripped from their homes a second time--by old Jackboots. In that way we can shape the debate and turn back the tide.
Elane Heffernan


DEPORTATIONS

The difference a year makes

Germany took in 14,689 refugees last year--so far it has sent back 25,109

Western governments claimed the war with Serbia last year was to protect refugees, but the UN refugee agency now says that EU countries are dumping refugees in Kosovo in such huge numbers that they are unable to cope.

German interior minister Otto Schilly plans to deport up to 180,000 Kosovan Albanians by the end of the year, if necessary by force. This contradicts written agreements between the German interior ministry and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (Unmik). The personal consequences are terrible. Sadete Demaku, a seven month pregnant Albanian woman, was asleep at home in Mettingen, Germany, when police kicked down the door at 4am. She had less than an hour to gather her belongings, she was then taken to a detention centre, strip searched and bundled onto a plane back to Kosovo. She was left stranded at Pristina airport and had documentation to stay in Germany.

In total Germany took in 14,689 refugees last year--yet so far it has sent back 25,109. This figure is set to escalate over the coming months, and includes the forcible repatriation of many immigrants who fled Kosovo years before the war broke out, along with other immigrants the German government no longer wants.

Shortly behind comes the Swiss government. In total it plans to return 35,000 Kosovan Albanians this year--so far 19,699 have been sent back. During the refugee crisis last year Switzerland only admitted 1,687 refugees. As well as returning these refugees it also wants to use the current repatriation policy to dump thousands of other immigrants.

Other EU countries intend to send another 30,000 refugees back to the war torn province. UN officials from UNHCR have called the forcible deportations, 'against international norms', and have also called for the flow of deportees to Kosovo to be slowed down.

The deportations will further destabilise the region. Western governments have so far failed to come up with the cash to rebuild the area that it bombed last year. As a result, conditions there for many people are intolerable. An influx of thousands of refugees, forced against their will to return, will only exacerbate a very volatile situation. It shows what little regard western leaders have for those they claimed they went to war to protect, and raises questions about their real motives.
Peter Morgan


BETWEEN THE LINES

  • Could we be witnessing the death throes of Pauline Hanson's right wing One Nation Party in Australia? One Nation has been caught lying about its membership lists in order to receive public money. Hanson recently delivered a tearful plea on television for public donations to rescue her from bankruptcy and the loss of her farm and smart townhouse.
    Pauline Hanson
  • According to opinion polls, Tony Blair's backing of Frank Dobson in the mayoral election has done more harm than good. Asked if Blair's backing would make voters favour the Labour candidate, 19 percent said it would actively put them off!
  • Economic output in the last 100 years exceeds everything produced between the dawn of time and 1900. But GDP in Africa is lower today than it was in the rich countries in 1900, according to a report by the IMF.
  • Cabinet ministers have given themselves a pay rise of over £52 a week, whilst giving the lowest paid on the minimum wage an increase of just 10p an hour, a weekly rise of just £3.75.

  • Extra nurses needed

    When New Labour made its election slogan 'education, education, education', nobody could have predicted it was laying the groundwork for a method of accounting the Tories never dreamed of. For the first two years in power David Blunkett actually invested less in education than the Tories. The unlikely detectives in this saga were a group of mainly Labour MPs who sit on the Treasury select committee. They discovered a sleight of hand in the accounts for education, then they discovered the same trick for health. Eyebrows must have been raised when David Blunkett announced in July 1998 that the government would provide an additional £19 billion for schools over three years--almost a 50 percent increase in the entire educational budget for the whole of the UK for one year. They filed a report recommending greater transparency in the accounting methods, noted that no one in the press had picked up on it, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

    For the sake of greater transparency this is how they do it. Take, for instance, David Blunkett's extra £19 billion over three years from 1999-2002. When Labour came to power in May 1997 the existing budget for education for 1998-99 was £38.3 billion. Gordon Brown, in his first comprehensive spending review, laid down the following budget for education over three years accounting for inflation: in 1999 a rise of £3 billion, in 2000 a rise of £3.5 billion, and in 2001-02 a rise of £3.2 billion. In the real world this amounts to £9.7 billion, but where was the other £9.3 billion?

    It never existed. The accountants took the rise of year one--£3 billion, added it to year two--£3.5 billion, making £6.5 billion, then added in year three--£3.2 billion taking the total to £9.7 billion. When the accountants finished adding up, they just carried on accounting: £3 billion plus £6.5 billion plus £9.7 billion making a grand total of £19.2 billion.

    Within two months of Labour's term in office the education department announced it would spend £100 million to fulfil Labour's pledge to cut infant class sizes. Five months later in November the then schools minister Stephen Byers announced a further £22 million to cut infant class sizes. Eleven days later he announced the spending of £100 million to cut infant class sizes.

    In February 1998 David Blunkett stepped in to announce a further £22 million in order to alleviate the problem of over crowded infant classes. So in a year the education department had pledged £244 million to cut overcrowding in infant classes, with a budget of £100 million.

    Shortly after Gordon Brown's budget this year, Tony Blair made an announcement to the House of Commons on NHS funding: 'By 2003-04, NHS spending will have risen to 7.6 percent of GDP.' Blair had overstated the rise by some £14 billion because he had included estimated spending on private healthcare.

    Of the 15,000 extra nurses promised a year ago, only 4,000 have materialised. Yet 'that was just a start,' said Brown in his budget. 'With today's extra resources, and the reforms still to come, we can plan to recruit and train up to 10,000 more nurses.' But Alan Milburn was forced to admit that they were in fact the same 10,000 nurses, not extra money for new ones.

    The triple accounting and other con tricks are the New Labour way of appearing to deliver reforms whilst lying to its core supporters. But it is increasingly clear as the lies mount up that the trick wears thin. Watch out for more tricks up their sleeves.
    Karen O'Toole


    THE WALRUS

    Money for nothing

    Anyone bewildered by the government's total paralysis over the Rover fiasco should remember that programmed into the psyche of every New Labour MP goes the entirely Thatcherite maxim: private sector = good; public sector = bad. Enter the slightest bit of data pointing to the contrary and the circuits simply go bang, puff, whirrr.

    This is despite the fact that, in the few places where private firms have taken over local authority operations so far, it has all turned pear-shaped pretty quick. So Lambeth council has just announced that it would need to spend £1.5 million to take back control of its benefits service from Capita after a backlog of 40,000 claims had been allowed to accumulate and hundreds of tenants were left facing eviction.

    Now big business has been given pretty much a free hand to do the same on a much grander scale with industries like the railways. But, even with just about everything going for them, they still manage to make an appalling hash of it. At the same time as the Rover story was grabbing the headlines, one or two other pieces of news slipped which illustrate just how heavily the private sector has always relied on public funding and just how shameless even the most profitable companies can be in demanding every penny they can lay their mitts on.

    First up is British Aerospace (BAe), last-but-one owner of the Rover group and a company whose entire existence depends upon government contracts. Only a couple of days before BMW management finally blurted out their longing to get shot of Longbridge, Byers announced that his department would be giving £530 million of taxpayers' money to BAe. He was especially pleased because of the jobs this would help to create on the Airbus project.

    This is not quite the same story we got over Rover when Byers, the R2-D2 of the DTi, sanctimously informed the workforce at Longbridge that 'Britain could not go back to the days when the government had a say in commercial decisions of private firms.' Oh, really? So the Ministry of Defence plays no significant role in determining the commercial decisions of British Aerospace? It must be just pure coincidence, then, that it makes most of the hardware most recently utilised (at seemingly limitless expense) to bomb the living daylights out of Yugoslavia and Iraq. British Aerospace not only manufactures most of the planes flown by the RAF, it makes most of the missiles and guidance systems and, through its major subsidiary, Royal Ordnance, most of the bombs as well.

    Right behind BAe in the queue for government cash came the rather shifty form of Gerald Corbett, chief executive of Railtrack, the company which last year admitted to making profits of £1.3 million a day in the wake of the Paddington disaster.

    At the time, Railtrack management repeatedly assured members of the travelling public that it would be spending just about every penny on vital infrastructure improvements. Now it's a different story altogether. None of the new investment would be possible unless the government promised to cough up £1 billion a year, for each of the next five years. Corbett told the government that if the company's demands were not met by July it would not be able to meet its commitments.

    As one expert pointed out, it does make you wonder why the rail network was privatised in the first place, if it needs constant injections of public money to keep it running properly. Well, the answer to that's perfectly simple: the board of Railtrack had already asked for private funding but 'at the moment there's no appetite in the City because of the risk and uncertainty'.

    A likely story, indeed. On the same day as Railtrack went cap in hand to the government, the bosses of the world's biggest mobile phone companies were taking part in the latest round of a bidding auction for five radio band licences, currently owned by the government. According to the Financial Times, the chips now on the table are worth £10 billion, or 'more than £200 for every adult in the country', and quite sufficient to 'modernise completely the crumbling London Underground'.

    The vital product for which this Himalayan heap of cash is, apparently, effortlessly available is the new generation of web-enabled phones (WAPs) that will allow you to get the internet on your mobile. No risk involved? Even the FT was forced to ask: 'Are the big mobile telephone companies going completely dotty.com?' The bids, at £2 billion per license, 'represent a high entry cost to a market that does not yet exist'.

    The Walrus

    No doubt workers on the shopfloor at Longbridge will be beside themselves with glee once they get to hear about this exciting change.


    GM FOODS

    No act of kindness

    American farmers under pressure from campaigns against GM foods have one market where they can dump their unwanted produce--in the Third World.

    The US department of agriculture is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of GM maize to the Third World through the United Nations and US aid agencies. Aid is the last unregulated export market open to US farmers as worried European and Asian consumers shun GM grain.

    Last year the US donated 500,000 tons of maize and maize products worth $111 million (£70 million) to international relief programmes. Some 30 percent of this was genetically modified. Lucrative maize contracts worth $140 million were awarded to giant GM grain merchants last year.

    The UN does not know how much of the food aid it receives is genetically modified, nor does it have a policy on the issue. But one aid worker said, 'Africa is treated as the dustbin of the world. The US does not need to grow or donate GM crops. To donate untested food and seed to Africa is not an act of kindness but an attempt to lure Africa into further dependence on foreign aid.'

    Last year the US donated $711 million to the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), almost half its global budget. But as Dr Tewolde Gebre Egziabher, who leads the group fighting for stricter regulation for Third World countries said, 'This crop is contaminated--we're not taking it. Poor countries should not be faced with a dilemma between allowing a million to starve to death and allowing their genetic pool to be polluted.' Increased pressure from consumers in both the so called richer and poorer countries can force the food multinationals to back down.


    Here is a topical joke doing the IT rounds...

    Three beggars are begging in New York City. The first one wrote 'Beg' on his broken steel cup. After one day he had received ten bucks.

    The second one wrote 'beg.com' on his cup. After one day he had received hundreds of thousand of dollars. Someone even wanted to take him to Nasdaq.

    The third one wrote 'eBeg' on his cup. Both IBM and HP sent vice-presidents to talk to him about a strategic alliance, and offered him free hardware and professional consulting. Larry Ellison claimed on CNBC that eBeg uses 95 percent Oracle technology. i2 announced begTradeMatrix, a b2b industry portal to offer supply chain integration in the beggar. Cisco just announced that virtually all eBeg traffic runs over their equipment.


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