In a few short months Gordon Brown has gone from the leader who would rescue New Labour from Tony Blair’s legacy to the leader who has mired the party in ever deepening crisis.
There is a deep sense of anger among hundreds of thousands of traditional Labour voters who have seen the prime minister welcome Margaret Thatcher to Downing Street, pledge to maintain support for George Bush’s foreign adventures, and continue the neoliberal assault on welfare and working conditions.
One result of this is a re-emergence of a sense of class identity among working people. They question why their union dues should fund a government that is attacking their pensions, wages and conditions. The war provides a constant backdrop to all this, as people remember the lies and count the cost.
Trade union leaders have tried to keep a lid on the anger. But the erosion of traditional loyalty to Labour, and resentment over what working people are being asked to accept is creating growing pressure from below.
The argument that we have to swallow anything on offer from Brown is increasingly threadbare. Growing numbers of people feel that we cannot afford to do that – and question why we don’t have a chance to vote for candidates who represent the labour movement.
Building the fightback
While the Christmas bonuses in the City this year will be about £7.5 billion, over 4.5 million people are still trying to pay off the debts they ran up last Christmas.
That is the reality of Gordon Brown’s determination to hold down wages.
This year there was a limited fight over pay in the public sector. Tragically, union leaders repeatedly held back the anger of their members.
But pressure is mounting. Some 80,000 workers in the Department of Work and Pensions are in dispute over pay and are set to be joined by thousands of other civil servants in the new year. Teachers and lecturers are also set to ballot for action in January.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said this month that his union will work with other public sector unions across all sectors to coordinate action over pay. Other union leaders have made similar remarks.
Income policies have traditionally taken a couple of years to fall apart. We need to build a real fight against Brown’s pay limits in 2008.
Rich welcomed here
Under the weight of the shrill cries of the right wing press, Gordon Brown’s government is yet again clamping down on immigration.
The new points-based system for migrants means that all unskilled workers from outside the European Union are to be excluded. Skilled workers will get more points the more they earn and will have to pass an English language test. Entrepreneurs are welcome if they deposit £200,000 in a British regulated financial institution. They too have to pass a language test.
But if you are a big investor and have £1 million to put in a British financial institution, then Labour will welcome you warmly and there is no language test at all.
There is plenty of room at Labour’s inn for millionaires wherever they are from.