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Mortgaging our Future

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Just like the great pensions mis-selling scandals that rocked the UK during the last decade and brought misery to millions, along comes another personal finance disgrace that could swallow up the savings of hundreds of thousands of people.

According to figures recently released by UK insurers, 60 percent of the UK's outstanding 10 million endowment mortgages are forecast to fall short of the amount needed to repay the original loan. Across the country more than 6 million people have endowment mortgages. In the last two years, some 500,000 endowment holders have been sent letters coded 'red'--warning that their policies will be worth too little to pay off their mortgages. A further 2.5 million households have received 'amber' letters warning them that their policies are in danger of falling short.

Europe: Growing from Strength to Strength

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French trade unionists sent a 'social alert' to the right wing government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin recently.

Public sector workers, led by striking air traffic controllers, staged a mass demonstration in defence of pensions and wages and against privatisation. The action was mirrored in Italy, where Fiat workers struck to defeat planned job losses, while public sector unions announced strikes for 6 and 13 December over wages and spending cuts.

Weapons Inspectors: Saddamned If You Do...

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How's this for a choice: admit you have weapons of mass destruction--and we bomb you. Or deny that you have such weapons--and we bomb you anyway, because you're lying.

These are the options facing Saddam Hussein as UN weapons inspectors return to Iraq. While many around the world might hope that these inspectors will bring peace, the aims of the US and British governments are clear--they mean war sometime very soon.

Between the Lines

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Missing missiles - Astronaut for £200 a month - Buy a Daimler for grain - Enron signs removed from Houston

One of our missiles is missing, or a whole pallet of them to be exact. The MOD's privatised research company QinetiQ (owned by the Carlyle Group, European chair: John Major) was supposed to destroy a pallet of unwanted warheads under water in the Bristol Channel. But they didn't bank on the strong spring tides, which ripped the explosives off their mooring never to be seen again.

Tanker Disaster: Trouble on Oiled Waters

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Back in the 1970s, tanker owner Aristotle Onassis was the richest man in the world, and as infamous a personification of big capital as Bill Gates is today. Many other shipowners wanted a slice of his action, and the world is now living with the results, often in the form of beaches and seas covered with thick black sludge.

The Prestige--which broke up off the north west coast of Spain last month--was just one of many vessels mass produced in Japan during the spectacular over-ordering seen at the time. So was the Erika, which sank off the coast of Britanny in late 1999, losing 30,000 tonnes of oil in the process. So was the Braer, cause of a devastating 85,000 tonne spill off the Shetland Islands in 1993. So was the Aegean Sea, which grounded in almost the same Spanish waters as Prestige a decade ago, gushing out 74,000 tonnes of crude.

Fascists: Blackburn Battling Back

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The British National Party (BNP) win in the Mill Hill ward council by-election in Blackburn has shocked and angered people.

A Blackburn Anti Nazi League (ANL) became active in the course of the election campaign, and a large and confident ANL rally on the Saturday after the election was the start of a sustained campaign to push back the BNP. The Fire Brigades Union acted quickly to produce a joint leaflet with the ANL.

Student Fees: No Working Class Children Need Apply

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When New Labour proclaims its concern for the low paid it is usually a sign that it's about to attack higher education.

In 1997, announcing the scrapping of the student maintenance grant and, contrary to a pre-election pledge, the introduction of tuition fees, we were asked why cleaners should subsidise students. Now, as it plans to renege on last election's manifesto pledge not to introduce top-up fees, higher education minister Margaret Hodge asks, 'should the dustman continue to subsidise the doctor?'

Between the Lines

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Most company boards ignore social and environmental issues - London Eye and British Airways debt problems - US Justice Department Loses Computers and Weapons

A Blairite Institute for Public Policy Research survey for the Institute of Directors (IOD) found that six out of ten company boards never discussed social or environmental issues--and eight out of ten don't publish reports on their social or environmental impact. Overcome with rage at this report, IOD head of policy Ruth Lea said, 'This is our survey. We paid for it. These things cost about £15,000 to £20,000' and refused the think-tank permission to publish the report.

Brazil: Don't Be 'Lite' on the Bosses

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The landslide victory of the Workers Party (PT) candidate, Lula da Silva in the Brazilian presidential election in October, was of historic significance.

The landslide victory of the Workers Party (PT) candidate, Lula da Silva in the Brazilian presidential election in October, was of historic significance. The first Brazilian from a working class background to be elected to the post, the vote of 61.4 percent was also the first time a workers-based party has won national elections in Latin America since 1970.

Russia: The Theatre of War

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The brutal storming of a Moscow theatre by Russian forces last month led to the deaths of 117 hostages and all 50 hostage takers.

At least 113 of the hostages were killed, not by gunshot wounds, but by the deadly poison gas the Russian forces pumped into the theatre. The symptoms of the survivors led scientists such as Professor Steven Rose to conclude that the gas used was a variant of the nerve gas BZ developed by the US military in the 1970s. Some have since argued that the gas may have been a derivative of heroin. Whatever it was, the Russian authorities refused to disclose what gas was used, even to the doctors treating the victims, citing reasons of national security.

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