THE GOVERNMENT is set to launch yet another attack on the unemployed. It is threatening to slash the benefit of everyone out of work if they don't attend job centre interviews. The proposal may be part of the Welfare Reform Bill, which has already provoked the biggest rebellion by Labour MPs that Tony Blair has faced.
The cut was originally targeted at new claimants. Now New Labour wants to target existing claimants too. The government wants to snatch up to 20 percent of the benefits of lone parents and disabled people if they fail to attend the interview. For anyone who has just lost their job the penalty is even worse-all of their benefit can be taken away if they don't take any job offered to them after the interview.
New Labour is pushing the idea that unemployed people are to blame for being out of work and have to be forced into taking jobs. Yet a new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation this week showed that 500,000 full time manual jobs have disappeared from Britain's cities in the last 15 years. That, not some idea that people are "workshy", is what has created vast pools of unemployment. The government's bullying tactics will only force unemployed people into poverty.
A PROMINENT Egyptian lawyer has been freed after he was arrested in Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and charged with firearms offences. Abdul Majeed Al Bari was arrested along with six other Middle Eastern men last September, in the wake of the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. It was part of a general harassment of people from the Middle East. Now the police admit Mr Al Bari has no links to terrorism and London's Blackfriars Crown Court has thrown out a charge that he broke the law by possessing two personal defence sprays.
NEW GOVERNMENT figures show that grammar schools and selection discriminate against working class children. They reveal that at many of England's 166 grammar schools just 1 percent of children are entitled to free school meals. The average across all schools in Britain is 18 percent.
Parents will be able to petition from September of this year for a ballot on whether local grammar schools should be abolished. But the government has framed the law to give parents who send children to grammar schools a vote, while many parents in working class areas nearby will have no say.
BREAKING DOWN national borders extends to multinational companies but not to the people they exploit. The British government has refused to allow over 70 Indian peasant activists, representing poor farmers in Karnataka state, into the country to protest at big corporations.
Companies like GM food giant Monsanto exploit people in developing countries by insisting they use their seeds and chemicals. The New Labour government is one of the biggest supporters of big business. It has only given visas to 37 of the 120 Indian peasants who wanted to make their case here.
One of the farmers said, "We were told to bring more and more documents, including our land deeds and titles, then our bank details. When we protested, the British embassy called the police and 19 of us were arrested. All we want to do is tell the British what is happening to the poorest in India."
RAILTRACK, THE privatised company that runs Britain's rail infrastructure, unveiled record profits last week-up 5 percent to £428 million. Yet Railtrack has failed to cut the number of passenger delays it is responsible for by the 7.5 percent demanded by the rail regulator. The overall service is getting worse,as it has done every year since privatisation.
A study by chartered accountants Chantrey Vellacott reveals that in the year up to New Labour's 1997 election victory the number of trains failing to arrive on time rose by 23 percent. By the end of March this year the figure had reached 52.7 percent.
PROTEST IS growing against the Bank of Scotland for its links with right wing US Christian evangelist Pat Robertson. The TUC is to sever links with the bank, and UNISON also says it is considering whether to remove its business.
Robertson sparked more outrage this week when he described Scotland as a "dark land" where gays have "incredibly strong influence". He fears that "a shadow of tolerance of homosexuality is spreading across Europe". In March the Bank of Scotland launched a phone based service in the US, with Robertson as 25 percent owner and chairman of the operation.
RANGERS football club vice-chairman Donald Findlay was forced to resign this week after being caught on video singing sectarian anti-Catholic songs. Findlay is one of the best known Conservative supporters in Scotland. He was the leading figure in the anti-devolution campaign in 1997 and has stood for the Tories at a general election. He frequently addresses Conservative Party conferences and rallies.
Findlay led Rangers supporters in songs at a social club after they won the Scottish Cup Final last weekend. The songs included words such as, "Fuck your pope and the Vatican," and "We're up to our knees in Fenian [Catholic] blood. Surrender or you'll die."
The sectarianism which people at the top like Findlay encourage has murderous results. Sixteen year old Thomas McFadden was stabbed to death less than an hour after the cup final. Another young fan was hit in the chest by a crossbow bolt and another attacked in a takeaway. All of them were assaulted simply for being Celtic supporters. Despite losing his Rangers position, Findlay remains a top lawyer. George Galloway MP has called on the Lord Advocate to take action.
THE multinational food chain Pizza Express has been forced to agree to pay its workers the full minimum wage after a storm of protest. It was docking tips from waiters' pay and only giving them £3.10 an hour instead of the government's new legal rate of £3.60 an hour.
The shop workers' USDAW union started a campaign and reported the company to the Inland Revenue. Now Pizza Express has agreed to give workers aged over 22 an extra 50p an hour, backdated to 1 April when the minimum wage became law. The Department of Trade and Industry confirmed that tips could not be included in the minimum wage.