Socialist Worker

Look to new alliance not the old enemies

Issue No. 1791

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.


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Article information

What We Think
Sat 16 Mar 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1791
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