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Voice from the Back

Is This The Way In Amarillo?

"In March,2005 a nuclear warhead almost exploded in Texas. The near miss accident occurred in Amarillo, when workers at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant bungled the dismantling of a W-56 warhead, a weapon 100 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War 2. Details of the averted catastrophe have been kept under wraps until last month, when the Department of Energy (DOE) fined the company that operates the plant, BWX Technologies, $110,000 for safety violations. In a letter obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), technicians at the plant blamed the accident on severe working conditions, including mandatory 72 to 84 hour work weeks. One nuclear scientist told POGO that he "would not work on his car engine if he were fatigued from a 72- hour work week, and sure as hell would not work on a nuclear weapon." (The Nation, 18 December) $110,000 fine is hardly reassuring but what is worse is the news that the plant has set its 2007 production aims for a 50 percent increase.Anchor

Viva Las Vegas?

The city of Las Vegas likes to promote itself as a tourist paradise of fun and entertainment, but there is another side to it. "This is a boomtown, but it is also scattered with signs of bust - namely homeless people. And the city is taking a hard line against them. With mixed success in the courts and on the streets, Las Vegas has tried sweeping away their encampments, closing a park where they hang out, making it a crime to feed them, even passing a ban on sleeping within 500 feet of faeces." (Associated Press, 18 December) The mayor has even proposed moving the homeless to an abandoned prison 30 miles outside the city. The area has a population of 1.8 million but has 14,500 homeless. The mayor may seem heartless, but capitalism is a heartless society.

Post Xmas Blues

At a time when many workers are reeling from credit card demands and other reminders of our debts it is heartening to know that this is not the fate of everyone. "Sales of high priced items such as designer shoes and celebrity jewellery are breaking records, while John Lewis's director of retail operations, Gareth Thomas confirmed that the department store group is poised to record its best ever performance. ... Sales have been buoyed up by shoppers buying flat-screen televisions for second and third rooms... Mark Henderson, chief executive of tailor Gieves and Hawkes, said: `There is a definite return to formality and a flurry of sales of traditional dinner jackets starting at £1,200`" (Observer, 24 December) Fellow workers, as you sit watching your third flat-screen television in your traditional £1,200 dinner jacket you must often reflect that capitalism isn't such a bad system after all.

New York, New York

"Food or rent? That is the daily choice faced by about 1.2 million of New York's 8.2 million people. Faced with that choice, mostly they pay rent and rely on emergency or charity food to survive, poverty activists say. ... Hunger is not unique to New York. More than 12 million households - or 35 million Americans - struggled with hunger in 2005, according to the US government. ... About 3,800 people were living on the streets in 2006, according to New York City statistics." (Reuters, 26 December) When Sinatra sang about "The City that never sleeps", he was telling the truth - it must be hard to sleep on the street with all that traffic.

The Insecure Society

In Dundee after the Second World War the NCR company in Dundee employed over 7,000 workers, but over the years this has fallen to less than 1,500. So when Bill Nuti, the company's chief executive announced 14 months ago that he was "one million per cent committed to the Dundee operation" the remaining workers felt relieved, but capitalism doesn't work that way. "A total of 650 factory workers in Dundee were dismissed via transatlantic videolink by their American employer yesterday after being told that production was to be switched to cheaper plants overseas. Employees at NCR, which makes  automatic teller machines, were summoned to a meeting at midday yesterday where amidst angry scenes, the job loses were announced by videolink by Bill Nuti, the company's chief executive." (Times, 12 January)

Priorities

Two items appearing in the same newspaper on the same day illustrate the priorities of British capitalism. "Patients face much tougher rationing of treatments and restricted access to breakthrough drugs if the Government does not rethink its plans for health spending, the NHS's treatment regulator has told the Times. Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, the head of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), cited treatments ranging from new life-saving drugs to free food for the elderly in nursing homes as examples of care that could suffer if ministers slowed the rate of spending, as expected." And ... "Tony Blair defended his policy of intervention and said that more money would have to be spent on the Armed Forces to improve conditions and equipment, enable Britain to stay a warfighting power and face the threat of terrorism." (Times, 13 January)