Britain: Who are the Real Wreckers?

Those workers opposed to private parasites being brought in to run and exploit the public services are described by Tony Blair as "wreckers". Those who take action to defend themselves and their families are similarly "wreckers".

What about the "fat cats" in the boardrooms, on obscene salaries, who shut down factories, throw workers onto the scrap heap and relocate to countries where the labour costs are 75% lower? They are commended for their "good business sense"!

Blair has gone out of his way to attack workers and trade unionists for "standing in the way of reform", while he has not uttered a word of condemnation for the "wreckers" running British Airways, the Royal Mail, Goodyear, Dysons, Corus, Rolls Royce, Marconi, Royal Doulton and many others, who have announced widespread sackings.

Workers have had a gut's full of the attacks that have rained down on them for the last 20 years. "Enough is enough." You can almost cut the discontent that has reached unprecedented levels in every workplace. Things are near breaking point. That explains the wave of strikes or the threat of strike action over the past few months.

"A resurgent labour movement is confronting the government of Tony Blair with the biggest threat of widespread industrial action in the two decades since Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher broke trade union power over the British economy," noted the New York Times recently. "Railroad employees, mail deliverers, police officers, teachers, hospital workers and civil service unions are all threatening walkouts in the coming months, egged on by a new generation of radical leaders and playing to Britons' discontent with the state of their public services."

The rail strikes on SWT, Virgin Trains, Arriva Trains Northern and C2C over pay, conditions and other related issues are also a reflection of the discontent and declining morale amongst rail workers over the cavalier attitude of their bosses. While paying lip service to "safety", they are ruthlessly cutting costs to boost the profits of private shareholders. That is why they are trying to abolish the post of the guard. The series of train disasters are a product of privatisation and the break-up of the rail network, and everyone knows it. While Railtrack has gone into receivership, the private rail companies are still demanding even greater public subsidies. Since privatisation, the average subsidy has been £3.5 billion each year, more than double the highest subsidy ever paid to British Rail. In other words, the taxpayer is subsidising the profits of the shareholders. Last year alone SWT bosses "made" an operating profit of £45 million. It is time these blood-sucking parasites were driven out and the railways brought back into public ownership, with no compensation for the tin-pot fat controllers, the real wreckers of our railways.

Scandalously, during the current industrial dispute, the penalty payments against the rail companies were waived by the strategic rail authority - this supposedly independent body - to help them through this bout of strikes, saving them millions.

What worries the bosses is that the strikes will spread. "What is so damaging about the present action is the encouragement it gives to the 'strike culture'," said George Muir, director general of the Association of Train Operating Companies.

In fact they are justified in their alarm as industrial action spreads to other public services. The same widespread discontent on the railways is rife within the Post Office, where bosses have arbitrarily torn up union agreements, and are determined to use their "commercial freedom" as a whip to bring in new working practices. In the face of this provocation, postal workers have been engaged in frequent unofficial and illegal action to protect their terms and conditions.

Royal Mail, keen to run the Post Office not as a service but as a business, has now announced plans that could result in some 30,000 redundancies. This is an all-out assault on the workforce, which must be resisted by every means. The management's recent derisory pay offer resulted in a massive vote for national industrial action, and shows the anger that exists amongst postal workers. A series of one-day actions have now been planned. But this will not be enough to force the management to concede a decent wage rise. Three, four and five-day strikes would be more effective, leading, if necessary, to all-out action, which would paralyse the service and force the bosses to concede to the union's demands.

Other sections are also taking or planning action, such as the teachers, airline workers, airport security staff, and London Underground. Strikes are taking place in the civil service, where not only are the workers in benefit offices taking action, but strike ballots are being held at the Home Office and the Inland Revenue.

It is no accident that this wave of discontent should develop so early on in Labour's second term, because the first term failed to deliver. In May 1997, the hated Tory government was finally defeated after 18 torturous years. They were absolutely smashed. It was sweet revenge for all those attacks inflicted on our class. It was a humiliating defeat for Toryism and all it stood for. There was hope that the new Labour government would redress the hardships of Toryism. Unfortunately, Blair carried on from where the Tories left off. One of the first people invited to Number 10 was Margaret Thatcher!

Commenting on Blair's "wreckers speech", Bill Speirs, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, said: "When I heard it, I thought, 'when was the last time I heard a prime minister use language like this?' It was when Margaret Thatcher talked about the unions as 'the enemy within' in 1984."

While we all welcome reforms like the minimum wage, they have nonetheless been pitifully few and limited. Shamefully, Blair kept to Tory spending limits, despite the ravaged state of public services, and on one occasion gave pensioners a pathetic 75p increase. Blair has also clung on to the bulk of the Tory anti-union laws, while reducing corporation tax to the lowest in history. It is therefore crystal clear whose interests are being served here - not ours. Britain has been turned into the least regulated economy in the western world. British workers now work the longest hours, have the shortest holidays, and are the most "flexible" in Europe and even more flexible than in America!

No wonder we are the most stressed-out into the bargain. Every year 150,000 people take at least one month off for illness caused by job stress. More that 6.5 million days are lost and, at any one time, an estimated 500,000 people are off sick with anxiety or depression. This picture of burned-out Britain is a product of the past two decades' attacks on working people. Now new rules have been introduced to prevent compensation for stress-related illness. "Lady Justice Hale said it should not be the responsibility of an employer to make exhaustive investigations into the mental health of employees," reported The Independent (February 6, 2002). "Instead, the onus was on the stressed worker to decide whether to leave the job or carry on working and accept the risk of a mental breakdown."

Workers were prepared to give Blair a second chance last June, with the second biggest majority in history. But without much enthusiasm. The turnout was the lowest in any peace-time election since records began. The Blairites dismissed this as "voter contentment". However there were no celebrations. "We won the election handsomely, but the mood seems to be as flat as if we had lost," complained Pensions Minister Ian McCartney. But within months of this "flat" victory, Blair threw down the gauntlet to workers in the public sector. They were to be targeted for "reform"! Private contractors and business were to be brought in to "help" the public sector. Of course, these great philanthropists were not interested in health, education or social provision. They are only interested in one thing: how much rich pickings can be made?

Blair is the champion of big business and wants the bosses of the private sector to get their teeth into our public services. It would be like Railtrack running our schools and hospitals. It would be like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank! Blair has already privatised air traffic control - which is now heading for a catastrophe - and is preparing an unthinkable disaster in the shape of the privatisation of London Underground, despite widespread opposition from every quarter. He is trying to water down Labour's historical commitment to a free National Health Service. A document has been drafted stating that Labour is committed to a "largely" comprehensive and "overwhelmingly" free NHS.

As John Edmonds correctly stated it was "a clear sign that the government is attempting to move away from universal health care at the point of delivery. This is what the government regards as reform, but to the rest of the country it means privatisation."

In reality, Blair is in the pocket of the bosses. The recent scandals surrounding Enron, and now Mittal are illustrations of this. They follow on from the Bernie Ecclestone and the Geoffrey Robinson affairs, which embroiled Peter Mandelson. "We are the party of business," stated Blair. But for the cash donations from big business, they expect their pound of flesh in return, as with any business deal. Blair regards all this as quite natural. But for millions of workers at the sharp end of things, who have been fighting an employers' offensive for the last two decades, this adds insult to injury.

The Tory party faithfully carried out the dictates of big business under the Thatcher and Major governments. The "market" ruled supreme. Privatisation was extended further in Britain than anywhere else, resulting in the "family silver" being sold off. The trade unions were shackled. The bosses had the whip hand as workers' terms and conditions were ruthlessly torn up. The gulf between rich and poor reached unprecedented levels, as the spivs and get-rich-quick merchants profited at our expense. We all know what wreckers the Tories were.

Rather than reverse the process, Blair has stolen the Tories' clothes, not least on privatisation and public-private partnership. These were policies that Labour opposed in opposition, but have now been fully embraced by the Blair government. "This policy," said John Edmonds, "is less popular than Mrs Thatcher's poll tax."

Unions like UNISON, GMB and the TGWU have launched campaigns against the government's policy of public-private partnership. UNISON has threatened industrial action if the government refuses to back down. Thus the scene is being set for a showdown.

In protest, some trade unions have threatened to cut their financial support for the Labour Party. UNISON is reviewing its relations with the party, while the GMB is cutting funding to sponsored MPs who fail to support the union position. While this reaction is perfectly understandable, as union members become increasingly angry at the attacks perpetrated by the government, it fails to tackle the real problem. It is skirting around the issue. Simply reducing funds to the Labour Party will not force the Blair leadership to change course. In fact, it can even play into Blair's hands and the hands of the wreckers who have been searching for a means of breaking the trade union links.

The Labour Party was originally formed by the trade unions to represent ordinary working class people in parliament. The Tories and Liberals represented the interests of big business and the rich landowners, so a Labour Party was created to represent our interests. In 1918 it adopted a programme for the socialist reconstruction of society as the only real solution to the problems facing the working class. Unfortunately, this aim remained a dead-letter, good for speeches on May Day, but regarded by the leaders of the party as a pipedream.

After the swing to the left in the Labour Party during the 1970s, the boardrooms of big business determined to make the party safe for capitalism. They financed and supported leaders that would abandon left policies and move the party to the right. With the death of John Smith, they swung behind Tony Blair, as someone who would faithfully represent their views and interests. The Blairites, with the backing of big business, plotted to take over the Labour Party and turn it into a new Liberal Party, free from subversive socialist ideas. These are the real wreckers.

In the name of "modernisation", they succeeded in throwing out left policies, scrapped Clause 4, destroyed the key planks of party democracy, and weakened the influence of the trade unions. Blair's courting of the Lib-Dems and "left" Tories was part of his "project" to destroy the Labour Party and carry through a political realignment. Politically, he has fully embraced capitalism (the "market") and taken the party far to the right. In fact, he is the only leader of the Labour Party that openly opposes its formation! Blair has a contempt for the party, its roots, traditions and class basis. That is why he wants to destroy the party's trade union links, and turn it into a party of big business.

The problem is that this means a showdown with the trade unions and the overwhelming majority of the rank and file of the party. But Blair is preparing for this scenario. Even John Monks was astonished to hear these ideas raised in Millbank during the last election campaign. Just as Thatcher took on the miners in 1984, Blair seems to be preparing to take on the public sector unions. There is even talk of banning public sector strikes as Baldwin did after the defeat of the 1926 General Strike. This is how far Blair is preparing to go to provoke the unions. The pioneers of the movement must be spinning in their graves!

The question is how should the trade union movement face up to this dilemma? Cutting financial contributions to the party is certainly a means of protest, but is it really effective? You only need to ponder the question. Such measures will not hurt the Blairites in the slightest. In fact, the Blairites are very keen to reduce trade union finance while boosting the cash they get from big business. They welcome all measures to reduce the influence of the unions in the party. This assists them in attempting to change the class character of the party.

Surely the point is how to defeat the plans of Blair and how to re-establish the Labour Party as the party of working people. After all, the Labour Party was founded, financed and supported by the trade unions over the last 100 years. It is our party. Why should we give it up?

There has been a lot of talk about the scandalous actions and contempt of the Blairites. Quite right too. However, we must shift from words to deeds. The trade unions should use their resources to organise a fightback - where it counts - within the party. This is the only effective way of changing things. The task must be to replace the Blairite leadership of the party. A coordinated campaign must be organised at a local, regional and national level. The trade unions still have 50% of the votes at the Labour Party Conference, but they have failed to use this position to challenge Blairism and commit the party to working class policies. This has got to change!

The rhetoric about fighting Blair coming from the union leaders must be turned into action. Their proposals to limit or cut party funding must not be used as a means of letting off steam without conducting a serious struggle.

The trade union movement has the power to transform the whole situation. It has the power to defeat Blairism. But this will not succeed unless the unions organise a serious struggle within the party itself. Those who raise the idea of encouraging trade unions to break their links with the Labour Party are simply playing into Blair's hands. He could not wish for anything better! It is doing his job for him! The fact is you can't change anything from outside. You have to challenge the Blairites on their territory.

In reality, the basis of Blairism is very fragile. They have been allowed to get away with murder, in no small part by the same union leaders who are now voicing opposition. The Blairites can be stopped. However, it is not enough to simply oppose Blairism, we have to offer a real alternative. The Blairites firmly base themselves on the "market", which they have attempted to dress up as a "new" idea. But nothing could be further from the truth. We have been asked to accept the capitalist system ever since the birth of the labour movement two hundred years ago. We must reject this false idea. Capitalism means inequality and exploitation. If we are to represent the interests of working people we must offer a socialist alternative.

While the Blairites try to wreck the party, their supporters, the bosses of big business and the capitalist system itself, are busy wrecking our jobs, our services and our lives. The only things we want to wreck are the careers of Labour or trade union leaders who want a cosy life instead of standing up for working class people, and the capitalist system which is wasteful and inefficient, concerned only with driving down our wages and conditions in order to secure profits for the few. These privateers will never provide money for health, education, transport or any of society's needs. The much needed resources for investment exist, but they are in private hands. To free those resources we have to release the grip of the bosses on the purse strings by taking the key sectors of the economy into public ownership. We want change. The Blairites are the conservatives. We are the modernisers. They are the wreckers.

  • Militant trade union action to defend jobs and services.
  • No to the Blairites wrecking our party - Trade unionists reclaim Labour.
  • No to privatisation wrecking our public services - Renationalise the privatised industries with no compensation for the fat-cats.
  • No to the bosses wrecking our jobs - Nationalise firms threatening redundancies and closure.
  • For a socialist plan of production based on taking the commanding heights of the economy into public ownership under democratic workers control and management.

Socialist Appeal Editorial Board

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