'I am under pressure from rank and file members of my union to disaffiliate from the Labour Party.' That was the message from Dave Prentis of Unison to his fellow union leaders last week. Both Unison and the GMB union have launched big advertising campaigns in response to Blair's 'wreckers' insults. They rightly point out that public sector workers are not wreckers.
This is not just a small blip. We are in a new situation, where union leaders have been forced to openly confront the Labour leadership over what Blair defined as the central political question of his second term in office. The union leaders will not want that revolt to burst into open warfare. They will want it to be a verbal clash where they win concessions. We have to push for much more than a few kind words or a soothing meeting in 10 Downing Street.
It is good to see Dave Prentis, John Edmonds and Bill Morris denouncing Blair. But they have done precious little to organise real resistance. At the TUC conference last year a motion to call a national demonstration over privatisation was shelved because of the 11 September attacks.
We should demand that the union leaders now campaign for and organise such a demonstration. We should also pressure them to fully support every group of workers who are fighting back. This means campaigning among nurses, teachers and engineers in support of those who are already engaged in battle.
Where to make your voice heard
EVERY TRADE unionist can do something to focus the anger against New Labour. They can come to the trade union conference on 16 March, and get as many of their workmates and friends as they can to come with them. The conference is organised by the Socialist Alliance.
It focuses on the way that unions use their political funds to give millions of pounds a year to Labour, even though Labour treats the unions with contempt. But the conference is also much wider than that. It gives a chance for trade unionists to debate and organise. It's a great opportunity for people to discuss how to make the most of the new situation. Already over 300 trade unionists have registered to come.
After last weekend it will be easier to raise the conference in unions like the CWU, Unison, GMB and TGWU.
The general turmoil also makes it very relevant as well for people who are in unions which do not give money to political parties, such as the PCS or the NUT. It is also for Labour Party members who are uneasy with the way the party has gone. The conference was always an exciting prospect. Now it is right at the heart of the most important debate inside British politics.
Conference for all trade unionists
The political fund: where should it go? Saturday 16 March, 11am-4pm, Camden Centre, Bidborough Street, London WC1 (near King's Cross station/tube)
Register with the Socialist Alliance-phone 020 7791 3138, go to www.socialistalliance.net or write to Socialist Alliance, Wickham House, 10 Cleveland Way, London E1 4TR
Arriva workers strike back
Guards on Arriva Northern trains struck for 48 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. 'This was even more supported than our last strike,' one striker told Socialist Worker. 'People are angrier with management and more confident we can win.'
There were big, lively picket lines across northern England. A 60-strong picket in Leeds approached postal workers and others for solidarity, and argued for support from passengers.