ILC international newsletter No. 162

A Dossier of Weekly Information Published by the
International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples
December 13, 2005
Issue No. 162
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INTRODUCTION

Bangladesh: "Only the people of Bangladesh can save the nation." Why isn't what occurred in Chittagong possible on a national level? On November 2005, a march of over one million participants took place. In response to an appeal from the opposition parties, the protesters marched in support of democracy, the end of violence, and in defense of the sovereignty of Bangladesh.

Tafazzul Hussein, president of the Democratic Workers Party, which is affiliated to the ILC, responded to a few of our questions.

Romania: On Saturday, December 2, 2005, in Tirgu Jiu, in the Oltenia mining region, more than 400 workers, mineworkers, unionists, and youth, according to the ROMPRESS agency, met in the House of Culture and in various union centers throughout the town in a Conference for the Immediate Liberation of the Five Imprisoned Mineworker Unionists and for the Respect of Trade Union Rights in Romania.

Italy: After the general strikes in defense of the labor statutes, the pensions, and the education system, once again the workers of all the sectors grouped together with their trade unions to demonstrate their rejection of the policies dictated by the European Union, which in the last years have been implemented by the right and Berlusconi.

Great Britain: "The only possible basis for negotiation is what the Labour Party and the trade unions have always defended: the age of retirement must remain at 60 for all"--excerpt from the bulletin The Link. We are publishing a contribution for the European Conference by Stefan Cholewka, editor of the bulletin The Link.

United States: In this issue we publish the US Labor Against the War (USLAW) declaration concerning the growing movement against the war in Iraq and the war against workers in the United States.

Iraq/Morocco: Shouting their slogans, thousands of Iraqis participated in an immense protest against the draft Iraqi "Constitution" voted on by the Iraqi National Assembly (the Iraqi parliament). We publish the editorial of Tribune des Travailleurs, the newspaper of worker activists in Morocco.

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BANGLADESH

"Only the people of Bangladesh can save the nation." Why isn't what occurred in Chittagong possible on a national level?

 On November 2005, a march of over ibe million participants took place. In response to the appeal of the opposition parties, the protesters marched in support of democracy, the end of violence, and in defense of the sovereignty of Bangladesh.

Tafazzul Hussein, president of the Democratic Workers Party, which is affiliated to the ILC, responded to a few of our questions.

Question: What is taking place in Bangladesh?

Answer: As the Democratic Workers Party has stated several times: the country named Bangladesh is in danger; there is no safety and security for anybody. Today, national sovereignty and independence are in question. It seems there is no rule of law in the country. The government failed miserably to curb the violence and bombings.

In this situation, we launched an appeal to help in the building of the broadest unity "to save the country and save the people" because we believe that the unity of the people and firm patriotic conviction is most needed at this crucial moment.

It must be mentioned here that the greedy imperialist capitalists wanted to grab our Chittagong Port, a sea port which is the life line of Bangladesh. They created such a situation through a national and international conspiracy, that the government was compelled to capitulate to their lust. At that time, our party launched an appeal under the heading of "SAVE CHITTAGONG AND SAVE THE COUNTRY." That appeal touched the feelings of the patriotic forces, and we were able to hold a national convention with international dimension. The united front like movement -- where many parties, individuals, intellectuals and even some leaders of the bourgeois party Awami League joined -- was a success. Port worker leaders from the U.S.A also joined. Due to our movement S.S.A., the agent of the imperialists, had to retreat and we could save the port and the country.

The imperialists failed to grab the port through S.SA. They failed to grab the natural gas resources by UNOCAL due to the people's resistance. On the other hand, strong opposition is mounting to obtain compensations from oil giant Occidental and Niko for destroying natural gas worth billions of dollars. It may be mentioned here that, due to these two companies, explosions occurred in Magurchara and Tegratila. Gas fires have not ceased for the last few years. Vast areas of the country were burnt to ashes and are still on fire.

We stated in the present appeal that those who are the beneficiaries of this situation are "those who feel that the unity and sovereignty of the country is a hindrance to their plundering policy in Bangladesh." We stated that the roots of the acts of violence, of the bombings are not in Bangladesh.

Hundreds of workers in the last period have been killed by fires or building-collapses of factories -- especially in the textile and garment industries, due to the mad race of minimizing production costs at the expense of wages, health and security. In the appeal, it was written:

"There are many political parties, views and currents in the country and that is the natural requirements of democracy. Those who believe in democracy, they want peace. Every person wants to have a job with minimum required wages, so that he or she can feed the family with human honor. The people want the end of all kinds of repression and oppression. They do not want to be killed for the sake of competitiveness. The peasants want their land and easily available agricultural inputs. Students want to study without disturbance. In the field, in the factories, everywhere, people want to uphold keep independence of the country intact. There is no other true responsibility other than to save the country. Only the people of the country can save the country from disaster."

On the 22nd of November, a huge and impressive rally took place in Dacca. This was one of the biggest gatherings of this kind in living memory. The rally had been called by the AWAMI league -- which is one of the main political parties of the country, which is now in the opposition -- and by several other parties and organizations.

Our party, the Democratic Workers Party, took part because it felt it was its duty to be present with those masses of people who -- independently from the policies of the different parties -- were expressing the will and the demands which were concentrated in our appeal. Moreover, the action programme issued for that rally mentioned several points that we regard as a positive contribution to the elaboration of a common platform of action around which all democratic and anti-imperialist forces can converge. It calls for the re-opening, at state level, of all privatized and closed industries; it calls for a national minimum wage to be made mandatory by law, a stop to all dismissals and requires that foreign investment will have to be brought under particular law.

Question: Has your party endorsed this common action programme?

Answer: Not one-hundred percent; but, as a party, which ceaselessly fights for the broadest unity to save the country, we were of course eager to explore positively all the opportunities presented to save the country.

We therefore engaged in the discussion suggesting three main amendments: Bangladesh can be saved only if it is freed from foreign interference; the worst expression of that interference is the use of the foreign debt by the great financial institutions as a way to plunder our country. Therefore, the common action platform should include the following demand: immediate cancellation of the foreign debt which is not the debt of the people of Bangladesh; the colossal amounts of money which are extorted from Bangladesh must be used to ensure minimal living wages, the return of the land to those who work on it, the end of privatisations, the defense of our national resources.

Our second proposal was based on one of the points that had been presented: "The power of the State belongs to the people." It must be clearly stated that the way to ensure this is for the Bangladeshi people to elect their representatives on a clear mandate, for an assembly which will be totally sovereign in the sense that there will be nobody above it. A national sovereign assembly with the mandate to implement the measures we are discussing. A constituent assembly in the sense that it will have the power to define the rules, the constitution, allowing the people to democratically decide the future of Bangladesh."

The third proposal we made was the return to the people of the funds extorted by the defaulters. About 35,000 crors (3,500,000 million) of Taka have taken as loan from the state owned banks by the industrialists and entrepreneurs, those funds are yet to be recovered. These loans were distributed on political consideration, nepotism and corruption. The loonies never invested the money in productive sectors. This huge amount is now termed as bad loan. Our demand is to recover that money from the defaulters and be invested in the industrialization of the country. The defaulters must be brought into justice and be punished as well.

Question: Were those proposals accepted?

Answer: No, they were rejected and especially by the main party, the AWAMI League; we are surprised by that refusal, which, in our opinion, hinders the struggle to save our country.

Nonetheless, the discussion is gong on and the Democratic Workers Party, on its side, will keep on using every opportunity to unite in action against a course which is leading the country to disaster.

Question: What is the way out?

Answer: I repeat, Bangladesh is in danger. The country must be saved; there is no more urgent task. What does that mean? What kind of government does Bangladesh need? And to do what?

We are calling for a government that will re-establish security for all the citizens of Bangladesh, men and women. A government that will re-establish democratic freedoms: speech, press, association, demonstration, organization.

A government that will put an end to the privatisation measures which ruin the country and throw millions and millions of people into poverty. A government that will put an end to the selling out of the wealth of the country, of its natural resources to foreign monopolies. A government that will renationalise and re-open all the factories which have been closed, a government that will fix and respect a minimal minimum wage in accordance with the cost of living. We want such a government.

That means immediate cancellation of the foreign debt which is not the debt of the people of Bangladesh.

A government that would start acting along those lines would receive the full support of the Democratic Workers Party.


ROMANIA

International Conference in Tirgu Jiu: Free the Five Mineworker Unionists!

On Saturday, December 2, 2005, in Tirgu Jiu, in the Oltenia mining region, more than 400 workers, miners, unionists, and youth according to the ROMPRESS agency, met in the House of Culture and in various union centers throughout the town in an Conference For the Immediate Liberation of the Five Imprisoned Mineworker Unionists and for the Respect of Union Rights in Romania.

This conference was organized on the initiative of 50 labor leaders in the country and was supported by the ILC.


Delegation to the Prison

"We will not end our campaign until you are freed!"

A delegation restricted to six people by the national prison authorities -- composed of three Romanian activists, and three foreign activists -- went to the prison in Tirgu Jiu in order to meet with one of the five imprisoned mineworkers, Constantin Cretan.

In the name of all the participants, from Romania and abroad, the delegation transmitted to Constantin Cretan the international labor solidarity expressed at the Conference and the pledge to not cease the campaign until all the imprisoned unionists are freed and are given back their freedoms and their civil, political, and union rights.


At 10 in the morning, delegations coming from the mining towns of the Oltenia and the Jiu valley, from Craiova, Bucharest, Tirgu Jiu, Rovinari, Lupeni and Petrosani, many of whom came more than 150 kilometers in car, gathered together in the crammed conference room.

Most of the participants were forced to stand, as there were not enough seats.

The Romanian organizations that called for the Conference took the mic to explain the reasons for their participation. The speakers of the League of Mineworker Unions of the Jiu Valley, the Miron-Cozma Workers´ League, the Association for the Emancipation of the Workers (AEM, member of the ILC) and two of the five national trade union federations -- the National Union Block and the Meridian confederation, represented by their presidents and general secretaries -- then took the mic.

All speakers underlined the union character (irrespective of one's opinion) of the miners´ march on Bucharest in January 1999. They underlined the fact that this march ended with negotiations and agreements, in which agreements meeting numerous demands were reached.

The General Secretary of the Meridian federation, Ioan Albu, during his speech, invited all the participants to co-sign an appeal proposed by the tribune, an appeal which demonstrates the ILO Conventions 87 and 98, which Romania has ratified, were violated by the decision by the Supreme Court in Bucharest on September 28, 2005 to sentence the unionists implementing their union mandate to five to ten years in prison.

He made public the decision of his federation to register a complaint with the Committee on Trade Union Freedoms of the ILO -- a decision backed by the national leaders of the BNS federation and, in a personal capacity, by a departmental leader of a union affiliated to the Fratia federation.

All the speeches were interrupted by the shouts of the hundreds in the room: "Libertate!" (Freedom!) and "Unitate!" (Unity!).

A speaker, a member of the Association for the Emancipation of the Workers, reminded the audience of the massive campaign that has been led since 1999 in the international workers' movement. He spoke of the numerous trade unions in the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Algeria, Belgium, and Burundi that took positions in favor of the trade unionists.

Then the international speakers took the mic. Jose Sanchez, mandated by the UGT's public sector federation in Madrid, recalled that after "the death of the dictator Franco thirty years ago, the Spanish workers have defined their tasks. It is clear that no democracy is possible without the immediate liberation of the all the imprisoned unionists."

A representative of the Ukrainian organization Borotba denounced the "pressures weighing down on the governments of the East by institutions like the IMF, the WTO, and the European Union," with the goal of privatizing and closing down mines and state enterprises, in contempt of the most basic democratic rights.

Pavlusko Imsirovic, of the Workers Political Alliance of the former Yugoslavia, made the parallel between "the repression against the mineworker unionists in Romania and the fratricidal war imposed by imperialism on the peoples of the Yugoslav Federation fifteen years ago. In both cases, the goal was to discourage, demobilize, and demoralize the resistance of the workers of the regions of the Balkans. In both cases, they did not succeed." He invited all the labor activists present to respond to the appeal of the German unionists to a European Conference in February 2006, with the goal of debating the common questions of the workers' movement of Europe.

Next came Emmanuel Chalard, a French unionist of the CGT in the energy and mining sectors, who spoke about the recent threat to the right to strike in France. Yannick Sybelin, mandated by a local CGT branch in Roanne, recalled the struggle led by numerous unions in France for the liberation of the imprisoned Romanian unionists. Jacques Girod, sent by the departmental Force Ouvriere union of Paris, recalled that "what one law has decreed can be undone in the streets," and insisted upon the need to lead the struggle in the International Labor Burau to ensure that the Romanian government respects the ILO conventions which it had ratified.

The representative of the ILC noted that "it was not in Bucharest but rather in Brussels that the two presidents, Iliescu and Basescu announced the abrogation of the presidential pardon given to Miron Cozma in December 2004. What right does the EU have to decide what is good for the Romanian people?" He concluded, in support of the draft resolution submitted to the conference, that this resolution "demonstrates, based on the facts, that the sentencing of the unionists is incompatible with ILO Conventions 87 and 98."

At the end of the conference, hundreds of people signed, together with the members of the tribune, the final appeal of the conference.

Correspondent


Union delegation to the Romanian consulate in Istanbul

To demand the liberation of the five imprisoned Romanian unionists, a representative delegation of the Turkish labor movement took place.

We received the following text:

"It was an action organized by the branches and unions affiliated to the Turk-IS Cetin Yelken federation. The president of the Teksif branch (the textile union) made his speech in front of the media. Presidents of two other union federations were present, of construction and telecommunications. It was a strong action, which attracted the attention of the media. The people at the consulate were very embarrassed by our action."


EUROPEAN CONFERENCE OF WORKERS: BERLIN, FEBRUARY 25 AND 26, 2006

The proposal for a European Conference was made by German labor activists. Their country is faced with a profound crisis provoked by the constant submission of the Schroder government -- and now the "grand coalition" government -- to the dictates of the European Union. They called for contributions from all of Europe to be sent in to open the discussion and prepare, in this way, the conference. (See Issue 157 of the ILC International Newsletter.) In this issue, we are publishing a response from Italy.


ITALY

Dear Friends and Comrades,

Our National Committee Against the European Union, In Defense of the Unity and Sovereignty of the Italian Republic received your invitation to the Berlin conference at a moment when the Italian workers, yet again, organized a general strike on November 25.

After the general strikes in defense of the labor statutes, the pensions, and the education system, once again, the workers of all the sectors grouped together with their trade unions to manifest their rejection of the policies dictated by the European Union, which in the last years have been implemented by the right and Berlusconi.

Only two days later, on December 2, the metal workers and mechanics throughout the country descended on Rome in a general strike in their sector in defense of their labor contracts, real wage increases, and against the planned lay-offs.

The strike on November 25 was organized against the Finances Law, which would cut 30 million Euros from public services, regional budgets, health care, and public administration. This law is the strict implementation of the European Stability Pact which, in the name of the Maastricht Treaty, already has resulted in very serious attacks in recent years.

Thus, the workers protested and struck, by the hundreds of thousands, in 62 towns, in unity from the North to the South of the country.

The Italian working class has protested on several occasions under the slogan "From the North to South, we are all united in struggle" in defense of Fiat and all the threatened industries.

Then, December 2, the Italian working class again protested under the slogan "From the North to South, we are all united in struggle" in defense of Fiat and all the industries threatened with being closed down by the policies of the EU.

Thus, as a first response to the question posed in your letter: Yes, the facts demonstrate that the Italian workers, youth, and unemployed, like in all of Europe, reject the policies and directives of the European Union and are looking for a way to resist and defend themselves.

But, at a moment when the Italian workers prepared for their strike, the government adopted the "devolution," that is, a "reform" of the Constitution which follows in the wake of a similar law passed five years ago by the center-left government, which gives all power to the regions concerning matters of education, health, police, and, in a certain way, the fiscal system. This "reform" was presented everywhere as a "victory" for the League of the North, which declared on several occasions that it was first step towards "secession."

The policies dictated by the European Union thus threaten today the unity and democracy won in the Liberation struggle in 1943-45.

It was against all the policies, in defense of the unity of the country and the social conquests, that the workers took to the streets on November 25, as did the metal workers on December 2.

We all want to get rid of Berlusconi, his policies, and his government.

But now facing all the workers and us is a new and important obstacle.

Next April, elections will take place and, up to now, two electoral blocs have been announced. One is around Berlusconi and the right, which we want to defeat. But the other is around Prodi, the ex-president of the European Commission, who is now leading a coalition named "Unione" which groups together a sector of the ex-Christian Democracy, the Left Democrats (the ex Communist Party), the Greens, and Communist Refoundation. This is a big problem.

Prodi was already head of state from 1996 to 1998.

He has always been a strong partisan of the European Union and its policies, and he has been chosen as the leader of the "center-left" precisely because as president of the IRI (the institute which groups together the state enterprises) he imposed the privatization of dozens of public enterprises, completely liquidating the Italian iron and steel industry (200,00 jobs were lost) and the food industry (40,000 jobs were lost).

Then, as head of state, he "brought Italy into Europe" by imposing the strictest budgets in the history of our country (65 million liras, 50 million liras, 30 million liras) and cutting social spending. He led the rationalization and promised that the country would become "Italy of autonomy," dismantling the system of national health care.

He launched the Treu law (named after the minister) which introduced "temporary work" for the unemployed, through which unemployed workers are forced to work in under-paid, uncovered work outside the national labor contracts, all while a private agency gets to keep a part of the wages of the workers. This has opened the road to precarious labor and the destruction of the national labor contracts.

In the domain of the education system, he forced through the acceptance of a law of educational autonomy, leading schools to make their own curriculum, subjects, and school hours, opening the path to the destruction of diplomas recognized in the national labor contracts. Thus, a parent who sends his or her child to school now doesn't know what the curriculum will be like and what level of education the child will come out with.

Prodi then took over at Brussels, as president of the Commission of the European Union (EU).

This time he dictated plans of destruction not only to Italy, but to all countries in the EU. He was a co-writer of the draft Constitutional Treaty rejected by the people of France and Holland.

For Italy, it is thus a bit of a paradox: The candidate presented to us as the man to replace Berlusconi is precisely the man who dictated to Berlusconi the worse laws written against the interests of the workers.

In your contribution you recall that the Barcelona Summit of 2002 led by Prodi imposed on all countries the "reform" of the pensions system. Thus, it was Prodi who imposed on Berlusconi the "reform" which resulted in one of the biggest strikes of our country.

And in the health sector?

The directives which you mentioned were implemented by Berlusconi. But it was Prodi himself who got rid of the "differed wage" and regionalized the national health care system, imposing a strict respect for the Stability Pact on all the regions. Dozens of hospitals were closed down, thousands of beds gotten rid of, and all the regions were forced to raise the fee for examinations and consultations.

In the education sector? The day that the Italian parliament voted in the "reform" of the minister Morrati, dismantling the former system.

Regionalizing professional teaching and abrogating the diplomas, Prodi celebrated in Brussels, noting:

"In several countries, the position held by the workers is set by the diploma he or she possesses. This connection between the statute and the qualifications augments the internal difficulties to the flexibility of the labor market."

These directives are similar to the "Biagi law" which "reformed" the labor market, by introducing flexibility, precarious labor, and the individualization of labor relations. In the name of this law, youth and unemployed workers are forced into underpaid work without any guarantees or perspectives for promotion. This law gives thousands of millions of Euros to the capitalists, in the name of competition. The result of this "competition" is clear to all: more lay-offs every day of the week.

And in industry? On several occasions, the workers at Fiat and other industries have mobilized to prevent the liquidation of this enterprise, the industrial heart of our country and economy. In an appeal, we have said with them: "The state must intervene, it must prevent lay-offs, a law prohibiting lay-offs is necessary."

What was Prodi's response? In February 2005 he spoke in front of the striking workers of Mirafiori, the big factory in Turin, the heart of Fiat, and he declared: "A direct intervention on the part of the state is out of the question. Only actions in line with the European laws can be taken."

As we know, these European "laws" prohibit state intervention and impose the strict acceptance of the principle of competition. It is precisely due to this principle that today Fiat is threatened with being closed down. And what does Prodi say? It is necessary to go all the way.

Thus it is with Prodi and his alleged "fight" against Berlusconi.

Does Prodi represent an alternative that can satisfy the demands of the millions of workers who struck on November 25?

But all this isn't enough. In the face of the immense movement against the Finance Law imposed by the Stability Pact, Prodi declared: "To put into question the bases of the Stability Pact is an irresponsible act. We will implement radical reforms in the tertiary sector, in commerce, in the professions, and in public services. We will privatize, we will liberalize. It is necessary to have courage to cut down the corporatist defense which, up to now, has blocked the situation. It is necessary to do this quickly."

Quickly? Prodi has thus announced that if he takes power he will continue the same policies and deepen them. Who can believe that the millions who struck on November 25 aspire to the election of Prodi?

All this leads us to a response to your question. Here, as in Germany, the aspirations of the masses risk being completely betrayed by a new Prodi government, which has Communist Refoundation at its center.

On several occasions, the leader of Communist Refoundation, who is also president of the GUE (European Left Party) has declared: "Prodi's leadership is not in question. We will loyally collaborate. There is no danger of a crisis."

Bertinotti has thus announced to us that Prodi, the most ferocious supporter of the destructive plans of the European Union, can count on his support to go all the way.

What has occurred today in Germany with the "grand coalition" is also being prepared in our country: a grand coalition between the staunchest partisans of the European Union and those who voted against the European Constitution (Communist Refoundation), a coalition sharing a common program aimed at implementing the directives of Brussels.

Who can accept this situation?

We are seriously worried. This worry was aggravated when we see that at the next congress of the CGIL, the biggest union federation in Italy, has put on its agenda a discussion of a social pact with the next government.

Can one make a pact with a future Prodi government, which has announced that it will go all the way with its destructive plans?

Nevertheless, we are certain that a political alternative exists, a perspective in line with the interests and aspirations of the workers.

One more time, on November 25 and December 2, millions of workers struck and protested against the policies dictated by the European Union, and, at the same time, the parties which should represent the workers, Communist Refoundation and the DS, are preparing to govern with Prodi, who has declared that he wants to accelerate the policies dictated by the European Union.

All this clearly parallels the situation facing you in Germany where, on September 18, the workers voted SPD against Schroder, in opposition to the counter-reforms, only to have a grand coalition with Merkel imposed on them.

The Italian workers want unanimously to get rid of Berlusconi. They want a government which respond to the interests of the workers and the population, a government which breaks with the policies of all the governments which have implemented the same destructive policies dictated by the European Union.

A government is necessary that breaks with the European Union and implements the following:

-The abrogation of the Treu and Biagi laws;
-The abrogation of all the "reforms" of the pensions systems from 1993 to the present (4 laws);
-The abrogation of the Morrati "reforms" of the education system and the re-establishment of all the norms preceding the center-left government;
-The return to the system of national health care with the "obligatory contribution"
-The prohibition of all the Fiat lay-offs and, in all industries, the reintegration of all the workers
-The abrogation of the devolution and the return to the Constitution of 1945, with the abrogation of the federalist "reform." It is in the name of this reform that today a region of the country, Emilia-Romagnia has just opened an embassy abroad!

And we pose a question: How is it possible that organizations who speak in the name of the working class, such as Communist Refoundation and DS can support Prodi?

Only a government which breaks with Prodi and the European Union can respond to the aspirations of the millions who organized, in response to the appeal of their unions, a powerful general strike against the policies of Berlusconi, policies dictated by the European Union.

Democracy is at stake!


GREAT BRITAIN

"The only possible basis for negotiation is what the Labour Party and the trade unions have always defended: the age of retirement must remain at 60 for all."--excerpt from the bulletin The Link

We are publishing below a contribution for the European Conference by Stefan Cholewka, editor the bulletin The Link.

BERLIN CONTRIBUTION

Dear Comrades,

As the editor of the LINK journal, I have received the invitation to the conference that you are convening in Berlin. We have also received the first two contributions. Thank you for the update Bulletins we are receiving.

A delegation of trade unionists and members of the Labour Party grouped around The LINK and fighting on the slogan: "Blair Out Now! - Reclaim the Labour Party", will definitely attend the conference on February 25 and 26.

The information you have sent us as well as the invitation will be circulated in the British labour movement on the current situation in Germany, and the struggle you are also waging in defense of the organisations that the German working class has created.

You ask a series of questions. You said: "Can you inform us on the situation in your country?"

The fact is, we received your invitation at the very moment when the Blair Government made public a report on pensions, which illustrates the fact that the questions you are raising are precisely those the British working class and its organisations are facing.

This report -- the TURNER report --deals with state pensions. The main recommendation of the report, which represents an unprecedented attack against the British working class and what its unions have won, is a proposal to extend the age of retirement to 69 years for men and women.

On top of this, the report proposes the introduction of a national pensions saving scheme (NPSS).

This report -- which Blair declares he agrees with -- represents in fact the last step of the struggle waged by the Blair Government against our pension system.

In June 2005, the government in line with the plans of the European Union, made the proposal to extend the age of retirement to 65 for public sector workers. In response to the government's proposal, the public sector unions made a call to organize a national strike to take place on 23rd March.

Ahead of what was unanimously expected to be the most important strike since the 1926 general strike, the government stepped back and announced a new set of proposals.

On what basis was the strike called off?

On the 18th October 2005, the unions were informed of the government's new plans following the March events.

These new proposals concern the NHS, Civil Service and Teachers' pension schemes but exclude local government workers.

The main proposal, submitted to the unions, was a plan for the introduction of a two-tier pension system, with the extension of the retirement age to 65 for new entrants in the public services or take a substantial cut in wages.

As the General Secretary of the GMG said, " It's what we have always fought against."

The NEC of NATFHE, the lecturers union, has rejected the "framework deal" on pensions which would create a two-tier workforce.

The Blair Government's policies are totally antagonistic to what has been historically won by the Labour Party and the trade unions. This has to stop. This is why we say: Blair Out Now!

You ask the question: "Is this not linked to the European Union's policies?"

We fully share this view.

It is precisely the policies that were rejected by the French and Dutch workers when they said NO to the European Constitution.

It is also the same policies that the German workers oppose, as you clearly explain.

These policies destroy everything in Europe.

Not long ago, on 9th November, Labour inflicted a resounding defeat on Blair when nearly 1 Labour MP in 5 voted against the government's amendment in Parliament to extend to three months the period of detention.

At the Labour Party Conference in October 2005 the trade unions along with 40% of party delegates inflicted a series of defeats on the leadership. On the privatization of the National Health Service, selling off public housing, demanding an end to anti-trade union laws against secondary action, and the rejection of raising the pension age from 60 to 65 in the public sector.

Blair was defeated because his policies stand in total contradiction with the interests of the working class. He was defeated, but he still keeps the same policies which destroy everything, simply because the European Union orders it.

What is taking place in Britain with the plan to introduce an "a la carte" pension system, and now to extend the retirement age to 69 is -- in Britain just as in Germany -- the genuine application of the Barcelona agenda, the direct application of the EU directives that leads to the abolition of state pensions' systems.

We particularly agree with you when you ask the question: "Can we accept that the only choice proposed to the trade unions is to escort EU policies?"

This is exactly what it is all about. This is precisely why the members of the Labour Party and affiliated trade unionists grouped around the LINK have circulated a national appeal saying: "The only possible basis for negotiation is what the Labour Party and the trade unions have always defended: the age of retirement must remain at 60 for all."

Recent research in our country has shown that life expectancy is indisputably linked to the age of retirement.

What the Blair Government and the European Union are requesting from the trade unions is purely and simply to agree, to co-organise the fall in the life expectancy of their members.

Do you know that as a result of the social collapse caused by the policies imposed by Blair and the EU -- which extend what had been initiated by Thatcher -- the life expectancy of a Glasgow workers has fallen to 69 years and 3 months!

Blair and the European Union dare propose to extend the age of retirement to 69!

Who could accept it? It isn't even to be discussed!

All this strengthens our understanding that the conference you are proposing comes at the right time. We need to discuss and exchange our experiences of our struggle in our own countries.

We are faced with multiple obstacles.

There is the EU and the international financial institutions. There is the Blair Government, which after last month's historical defeat in Parliament can now only rely on the Tories to introduce the reforms imposed by the EU -- including the pensions' reform. In other words, a German like "grand-coalition".

We are discussing how to overcome these obstacles, to help Labour Party members and affiliated trade unionists to reclaim the party against Blair. We are also discussing a series of other problems that confront us within the labour and trade union movement.

We can see appeals being circulated that call for the creation of a new "Workers Party". There already exists a party of the working class: it is the Labour Party, to which the trade unions are affiliated. The question needs to be asked: Doesn't the building of a new party inevitably lead to giving Blair a free hand to liquidate the Labour Party and consequently the trade unions? We see that those who call for the creation of such a party are precisely those who advocate the "right to choose" the age of retirement between 60 and 65. Is it not word for word the position of the European Commission?

Others have left the Labour Party to create the " Respect" coalition. They support the European Party of the Left led by Romano Prodi, who chaired the European Commission from 1999 to 2004. At the time he declared: "We must collaborate within the European Union to modernize our social security systems". He added, "one of the ideas which is already being discussed is the extension of the age of retirement." When he was chairing the Commission, Prodi published a Green Paper, then a White Paper which have both set the framework to the privatization of the public services in every European Country.

We hope that we have in a small way begun to meet your request for more information. We have outlined some of the problems we are facing and some of the discussions that are currently taking place in Britain.

Stefan Cholewka Editor: The LINK


UNITED STATES

Growing Labor and Popular Opposition to the War in Iraq and the War on Working People at Home

(Statement of the USLAW Steering Committee, adopted 12/3/05 -- Excerpts)

From its very beginning, USLAW has publicly opposed the war in Iraq. We stated that Bush was lying, that we had no right to invade Iraq, that oil was more the issue than weapons of mass destruction. We predicted that war with Iraq would lead to a prolonged and bloody guerrilla war, while encouraging terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. We warned the war would divert our nation from the essential tasks needed to provide for our own people.

Since February 15, 2003, when more than 10 million people across the globe went out into the streets to say much the same thing, it has been clear that the people have been smarter than our political representatives. If members of Congress and leading opinion makers in the United States wanted to believe the Administration's lies, it was not because the truth was not there for all to see.

Almost three years after USLAW was founded, the peace movement has resoundingly won the public debate. Most polls now show more than 60% of all Americans and more than 73% of Democrats want the U.S. military to leave Iraq as soon as possible. A November 2005 New York Times/CBS news poll found that more than 8 in 10 Americans are concerned that the $5 billion spent each month on the war in Iraq is draining away money that could be used in the United States. Only 19% of military-related people polled in the heavily militarized state of North Carolina said the war was "worth fighting."

In the labor movement the USLAW-initiated effort to call for rapid withdrawal from Iraq passed overwhelmingly at the July convention of the AFL-CIO, and many of the largest national unions are on record against the war. Such opposition to a war in progress within the U.S. labor movement is unprecedented and bespeaks the depth of antiwar sentiment among working people.

This of course is a reflection of the disastrous effects of the war: more than 2,100 U.S. soldiers dead, more than 10 times that number wounded, many seriously scarred or maimed for life. More than 100,000 Iraqis are dead, much of Iraq has been destroyed by U.S. military actions, and most of the Iraqi people are still without jobs, water, electricity, basic sewage services, health care and any minimal sense of personal security. Meanwhile our money pours into Iraq at $8 million an hour, much of it directly to the coffers of corporate cronies of the Bush Administration.

U.S. policies in the Middle East, and the war and occupation of Iraq in particular, have made our country and the world more vulnerable to terrorism, not more secure. The occupation is fueling the violence in Iraq and has turned Iraq into a school for terrorism. Attacks there are up from 150 last year to 700 per week today. Polls in Iraq show 80% of Iraqis want U.S. troops out. It was recently reported that after almost 3 years of training Iraqis to serve as U.S. proxies in this war, less than 1% of Iraqi military units can act independently of the U.S. military. ...

At home, military recruiters are in a panic and despite all their rosy promises, inducements and monetary incentives, young Americans are refusing to enlist.

The use of torture against Iraqi prisoners, the use of chemical weapons like white phosphorous on cities like Fallujah, the U.S. refusal to permit international monitoring of detention camps and operation of secret CIA prisons, our government's flouting of international law - all these have turned international public opinion against the United States and have destroyed any claim our government might make to the moral high ground.

Congressman John Murtha (Dem-PA) made it clear: the occupation is the problem and can't be the solution. As the Iraqi trade unionists said in the joint statement they signed with USLAW at the end of a 25-city USLAW-sponsored tour in June: "The principal obstacle to peace, stability and the reconstruction of Iraq is the occupation. The occupation must end in all its forms, including military bases and economic domination."

The Iraqis cannot work out their differences under occupation. It must end now!

Those politicians who claim to support the troops yet call for "staying the course 'til victory is won" are compounding the tragic and needless slaughter that has already occurred there by adding still more lives to the tragic cost the Iraqis and we have borne. A failed policy cannot be made right by doing it longer, harder or better.

It is important to realize that the essential goals of the war were in fact to secure control over Iraq's oil reserves, take out a leader who had slipped from under the thumb of the United States, and strengthen U.S. military presence in the Middle East. The Bush Neocons also seek to make Iraq into an unregulated free market, privatizing the large public sector industries and opening the economy to foreign corporate control, just as they seek to use the disaster in the Gulf Coast to privatize the schools and remake New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in their corporate image. None of these "alternatives" has anything to do with democracy or the genuine interest of Iraqis. ...

The most serious threat to the real security of the American people today comes from the White House and its Congressional supporters. With the 2006 elections looming, we need to seize the opportunity to move members of Congress and all elected officials to publicly and decisively oppose the war and occupation.

For too many political leaders, "victory" means having the Iraqis fight as our proxies while U.S. troops remain in permanent military bases and the Pentagon's control over reconstruction funds and armed forces results in a compliant Iraqi government. We reject and must oppose such phony schemes for ending the war. The challenge before us is to escalate the demand for immediate withdrawal within the labor movement, to join forces with the growing opposition to the war across the county to force our political leaders to remove all U.S. troops, to provide the Iraqis with the funds they need to reconstruct their country, and to redirect our tax money to taking care of the serious social problems we face at home.

Our labor movement is fragmented and divided over organizing and politics, power and leadership. Despite these divisions, in 2005 USLAW made dramatic strides, mobilizing for national demonstrations, organizing the discussion that led to an historic resolution at the AFL-CIO convention. ...

USLAW has grown to over 125 affiliates representing millions of workers. Today we have an opportunity, given the climate and the success of our work in 2005, to double the number of our affiliates. ...

Why should labor lead the movement against the war?

This is not an "extra issue." This issue is at the center of the national crisis our nation is in. We cannot achieve any of labor's goals such as major health care and pension reform, the government-funded rebuilding of the Gulf Coast and the strengthening of our endangered public services, without ending this war.

It is a budget issue, a Patriot Act issue, it is tied to the political club called the "War on Terrorism" that is used to attack labor rights and much that we hold sacred. ... Our credibility as a labor movement in the rest of the world is at stake....

Defeating the U.S. policy in Iraq must be accompanied by a new vision of genuine solidarity, based on the mutual interests of workers, and on respect for international law and national sovereignty.

We can no longer let the issue of war and the false patriotism of tyrants and demagogues be used to drive an anti-worker agenda, as has occurred since 9/11.

In consideration of all of the above, USLAW calls for doubling the number of USLAW affiliates to 250 labor organizations. Working to deepen the participation of International Unions, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win. This work will culminate in a National Labor Leadership Assembly on December 2nd, 2006. ...

USLAW, in addition, will work toward organizing a massive broadly based national demonstration in Washington DC in April 2006, with labor playing a major role along with a wide ranging coalition of national organizations.


IRAQ

"No to the Constitution, No to Partition!"

We are publishing the editorial of Tribune des Travailleurs, the newspaper of worker activists in Morocco.

Shouting their slogans, thousands of Iraqis participated in an immense protest against the draft Iraqi "Constitution" voted on by the Iraqi National Assembly (the Iraqi parliament).

Directly after the adoption of this decision, the European Union, the United Nations, and the White House saluted the new draft "Constitution," claiming it was an important step towards the construction of a "democratic, prosperous and peaceful Iraq."

The American secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, declared: "America admires the courage of all the Iraqis who peacefully work for a democratic, prosperous and peaceful Iraq; we will continue to work to help them."

What is the nature of "democratic, prosperous and peaceful Iraq" that the American administration is fighting for? It is an Iraq wrecked by communitarianism and ethnic and religious conflicts, because in the name of the federalism stipulated in the "draft Constitution," American imperialism aims to cut up and dislocate the Iraqi nation by forming groups of "independent entities" (Kurds, Shiites, Sunnites) with the goal of enabling the giant corporations, notably by the American oil companies, to pillage the riches of the Iraqi people.

Iraq has lived for almost two and a half years under the American occupation imposed under the pretext of the war on terrorism.

Is it even necessary to show the falsity of these assertions of the American government?

The facts have shown that the true objective of the war against Iraq was to destroy the sovereignty of the Iraqi nation and to control its oil and gas resources.

This war takes place in the framework of a strategy, implemented by Bush throughout the world, for the "construction of a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East," on Bush's terms and in the framework of the Great Middle East prepared for by the American administration.

This dislocation plan is presented as aiming to introduce democratic reforms in the Arab and Muslim countries. The American administration uses the real human rights problems in the region to justify an offensive aiming to impose the Iraqi model, that is, to impose chaos and dislocation, based on ethnic conflicts, in all the affected countries.

This model of "democracy" has been implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush has presented the Iraqi "elections" of January 30, 2005 as a success which "justifies its spread to the rest of the countries of the region"!

As a first step towards the implementation of the Great Middle East, a "Summit of the Future" headed by Colin Powell, the American secretary of state at the time, took place on December 11 and 12, 2004.

It was a meeting at which the leaders of the G8 and the 23 countries constituting what has been called the Great Middle East were present. Of course, on the agenda were "social and economic reforms."

Nobody can believe that the American administration worries about democracy and the situation of Arab or Muslim women at a moment when the American troops in Iraq spread the most barbarous destruction in Iraq and at a moment when the Black community in the United States was abandoned to the destructive Katrina hurricane. According to a communiqué published by Black unionists and activists in New Orleans, thousands of citizens died mostly due to the flagrant lack of relief forces and the lack of relief resources (helicopters, trucks, etc.) which Bush sent to Iraq.

The main cause of death due to Hurricane Katrina was the use of the American budget for the occupation of Iraq, instead of responding to the needs of the people who suffer sicknesses and who are threatened by various natural catastrophes.

Why then the Great Middle East?

The "Young Africa" newspaper published the following in its editorial on March 14, 2004: "The USA consumes 25% of the world production of oil and 26% of the production of natural gas. And despite the fact that it is a country which itself produces these two raw materials, it is far from being able to be self sufficient, which has forced it to import 10 to 15 million barrels a day, the equivalent of half the production of the 11 member countries of OPEC put together. Its hydrocarbon resources only make up 3% of the world's resources. Out of the 23 countries which form WTO, 21 produce 72% of the world reserves of oil (750 million barrels) and 52% of the world gas reserves (half o 80 billion cubic meters), of which 8 belong to OPEC.

The reality of the dislocating Iraqi "constitution" aims to explode and drown the whole region, to push it into chaos and to implement the same "reforms" imposed in Europe through the European Union (the European Central Bank, the European Parliament, the common currency) and the economic and social reforms imposed throughout Latin America."

In Iraq, as in the other countries of the world, two contradictory demands are posed. One the one hand, there is the demand for the liberation of the peoples from exploitation and the reconquest of their sovereignty over the natural resources in the framework of the unity of their nations. On the other, there is the desire of imperialism, which today is faced with an unprecedented crisis, to smash the resistance of the masses through all means necessary.


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