Union leaders exploded in fury at the Labour government last week. 'The time has come for Tony Blair to stop bowing down to big business,' said GMB union leader John Edmonds. Blair had launched a pamphlet on public services side by side with Chris Garnet. Garnet is chief executive of the GNER rail company and the brother of ex Tory health secretary Virginia Bottomley.
The pamphlet warns workers that 'customer service cannot be compromised by labour market rigidities, restrictive practices or role demarcations'. That means 3.30am starts for postal workers, teachers covering for staff shortages, nurses doing the job of two workers, and management sweeping away hard-won rights.
Union leaders were also outraged that the government might rat on a deal made to protect workers' pensions when they are forced into the private sector. The union leaders have agreed pilot schemes where privatisation goes ahead 'so long as workers' rights are protected'. That sop shouldn't have been enough to win their support, and may even be whisked away by New Labour.
TUC leader John Monks was incredibly stupid to suggest that the Tories might be able to outflank Labour by offering such policies as renationalisation of the rail and defence of pensions. He was even more stupid to hold 'courteous' talks with shadow chancellor Michael Howard and shadow pensions secretary David Willetts this week. The problem with the Tories is not, as Monks claims, that they have a 'lack of understanding' of the unions. It is that they hate the unions. They always have and always will.
The Liberal Democrats are no alternative either. They are divided over the best way to get votes, but their main line is to woo ex-Tory voters. They may want a public debate on drugs, but they want private firms to run schools and hospitals. Their leader, Charles Kennedy, wants to dump the party's commitment to slightly increase tax on the richest.
Wherever they get into office in local councils the Liberals show the same manic commitment to privatisation and cuts as the other main parties. John Edmonds was right to say, 'The Lib Dems are a bigger shambles than the government over public services.'
The solution for the unions is not to shift their support and money from one party that chases business to another that accepts the same basic agenda. It is to start fighting and arguing for socialist policies. There is plenty of criticism of the government from the union leaders but hardly any action. Why can't the public sector unions fight to stop the privatisation agenda in its tracks?
The truth is they have not even combined to call a demonstration. We need a real alternative which puts people before profit. That is why the Socialist Alliance is standing candidates in the local elections and has organised a conference this Saturday for trade unionists to debate the alternative to New Labour.
Socialist Worker now available in the shops
Did you get your copy of Socialist Worker from your local newsagents? You can order it each week, thanks to an arrangement between Socialist Worker's circulation department and wholesalers. Socialist Worker has been on sale in various newsagents around Britain for the last four weeks.
In the first week newsagents in Reading sold 119 papers and Gloucester newsagents sold 99 copies. Unfortunately many newsagents across the country don't realise how popular Socialist Worker is, and are not stocking it. In others Socialist Worker may be hidden behind a mass of other publications. We are asking our readers to take the initiative. Fill in the coupon and give it to your newsagent.
That will ensure you can get Socialist Worker on Thursday morning, and your newsagent could deliver it with your morning papers. You could also suggest they order a few extra copies to display on the shelves. You'll want to make sure you get Socialist Worker next week. It will carry articles you are unlikely to read anywhere else:
- Eyewitness report from the anti-capitalist protests in Barcelona.
- Interview with Tony Benn.
- London teachers' strike and postal workers' protests.
- Report of the trade union conference discussing links with New Labour.
Don't miss out. Order your copy from your newsagent today.