The Challenge to Blairism

Strikes, demonstrations, political crises, Britain looks a lot different now than it did when Blair and co came to power. For us the task of the hour is to give active support to workers struggling to defend jobs and services and carry that fight over into the Labour Party, into a fight for socialist policies.

British Socialist Appeal editorial statement, November 2003

Not for the first time postal workers in and around London find themselves at the forefront of a struggle against both management and the government. The exclusion of working class children from higher education, through increased fees and the promise of life-long-debt instead of life-long-learning, has brought thousands of students onto the streets in protest.

Strikes, demonstrations, political crises, Britain looks a lot different now than it did when Blair and co came to power. Yet this is only the beginning. Blair has yet to face an economic crisis. With historic levels of personal indebtedness representing a powder keg on the one hand, and the Bank of England preparing to light the fuse by raising interest rates on the other, such a crisis is inevitable - and there is no sign of a recovery in the world market upon which the British economy is utterly dependent.

The industrial action of postal workers is no aberration, but is merely a taste of things to come, as Blair persists with his policy of privatising public services. On the industrial front Blair will face one new battle after another, and, through the unions, these struggles will find their way into the Labour Party as well.

Within the Labour Party, we already have the first open splits in the cabinet with the resignations of Cook and Short. The scandal of the expulsion of George Galloway, which all labour movement bodies should immediately protest against, is a sign of the weakness not the strength of the Blairite clique. A kangaroo court of three expelled Galloway for his vocal opposition to the war in Iraq, but a serious campaign taken to every constituency and above all in the unions, could overturn that decision and deal a devastating blow to Blair.

Meanwhile the new left-leaning union leaders have taken another step along the road of organising a serious campaign to reclaim Labour, with the formation of the Labour Representation Committee. In the next period this will become the dominant question in British politics.

For now the British media is dominated by the twin soap operas - the crisis in the Tory Party, and the latest revelations of the former royal butler, Paul Burrell. As we have long explained this is not a secondary matter. The Tories remain the main party of big business, but for the last decade have stumbled from one crisis to the next. Hopelessly divided over Europe, their bitter internal disputes accurately reflect a deep-seated crisis within the ruling class over how best to defend their system. For a period they have been able to rest comfortably upon Blair who has faithfully done their bidding. Sooner or later however Blair is finished. He may be chuckling at the present mess facing the Tories, but in the not too distant future a similar fate awaits him.

With IDS gone, the poisoned chalice seems likely to pass to Michael Howard. But which individual leads the Tories will not have a decisive impact on their fortunes. They will attempt to refurbish their image, but for now their only hope of holding on electorally is the growing disillusionment with Blair.

What a tragedy that with the main bosses' party in disarray, their system has been so stoically defended by the leaders of the Labour Party. Indeed, so vociferously and dogmatically have they defended the free market that their attacks on the rights and living standards of workers have forced some workers to question the historic link between Labour and the unions. Whilst it is impossible not to sympathise with workers who question funding a party who in government are attacking them this is not the answer. In the end it would be an impotent gesture, and moreover, one welcomed by Blair and co who were roundly defeated by a united union opposition at this years Labour Party conference.

One only has to pose the following question to see the futility of such frustration. Will breaking the link defeat Royal Mail management or bring the railways back into public ownership?

In the past when we argued for the unions to reclaim the Labour Party, we were told, 'there is no such campaign', 'you can't defeat Blair inside the Labour Party', and so on. A year ago, if one only looked at the surface of events, or at the tops of the movement, this would have been an understandable conclusion. Now it is incomprehensible. The leaders of the main trade unions united at the party conference - just four unions having forty percent of the vote between them - and defeated Blair. Jackson was defeated in the AEEU. Elections for leaders in the T&G and other unions followed, all resulting in a further shift to the left. Of course the election of one or two left general secretaries does not solve anything in itself. These events must not be seen in isolation however, but as part of a process demonstrating growing militancy, and the inevitable spilling over of that mood from the unions into the Labour Party.

The idea of breaking the link, always backed by the Tories and the Blairites, and supported by some sectarian groups on the fringes for their own short-sighted propaganda purposes, must now be redundant. The struggle is now being joined to defeat Blair inside the Labour Party. We will lend our full support to such a campaign. The launch of the Labour Representation Committee is an important initiative and another stage in the process. It must be taken to every trade unionist and Labour member. For us the task of the hour is to give active support to workers struggling to defend jobs and services and carry that fight over into the Labour Party, into a fight for socialist policies. IDS is not the only Tory leader whose career is finished. Tory Blair can be defeated too, but only by a serious struggle inside the labour movement.

No to disaffiliation, don't contract out, contract in!
Build the Labour Representation Committee, trade unions reclaim Labour!
For militant trade unionism and socialist policies!