TONY BLAIR has cynically taken advantage of last week's tragic attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon to try to squash opposition to his privatisation drive.
He cancelled his speech at last week's TUC conference, claiming it would not be 'appropriate' in light of the events. In doing so Blair avoided what would have been one of the biggest ever rifts between the trade unions and a Labour government at a union conference. TUC leaders even wound up the conference the next day, denying trade unionists a chance to discuss how to fight against privatisation, the scapegoating of refugees, job losses and other attacks from New Labour.
But Tony Blair did hand out the text of the speech to hammer home the point that he is going to push ahead with privatisation regardless of the anger of millions.
The speech would have caused uproar at the conference if he had dared deliver it. Blair's plans to privatise public services had already caused unprecedented anger among trade unionists at the conference.
Usually timid union leaders had been forced to reflect this by speaking out against the government. Delegate after delegate at the conference had attacked the government.
Before Blair appeared on the platform UNISON delegates all wore T-shirts emblazoned with the message 'Keep public services public'. The text Blair issued was a calculated insult to all of them. It adopts an arrogant and patronising tone.
In it Blair says that privatisation of public services would carry on regardless, even though not only trade unionists but the majority of the public oppose it: 'Change is never easy. But I tell you, reform is not the enemy of public services in Britain. The status quo is.'
Blair also directly attacked those who criticised privatisation: 'As for the involvement of the private sector, I have a sharp sense of déjà vu, in this my eighth year as party leader. Wherever change is proposed, there is a familiar pattern. First opponents of change construct an Aunt Sally, grossly misrepresenting it. Then a great campaign is mounted against the Aunt Sally. Then we defend ourselves. Then those who created the Aunt Sally ask us why we keep talking about it. Then after the change goes through people wonder what all the fuss was about.'
Blair thinks the rows over privatisation are a fuss about nothing. He is prepared to give a slap in the face to everyone who wants to stop the government handing over our schools and hospitals to fat cat firms. In a hectoring tone the speech says, 'And let us hear no more false charges about privatising schools and hospitals.'
Yet that very day the government announced all schools in Swindon would be privatised. Blair's message to the thousands of workers who have been made redundant in recent weeks was, 'There is no point offering false hope.' The speech showed how out of touch Blair is not only with TUC delegates but with the general public.
It was so right wing that even the trade union leaders who had let Blair off the hook when they called off the conference were forced to speak out. TUC leader John Monks said in response to the speech, 'So far we have not been reassured.' New TUC president Tony Young, of the CWU union, warned, 'The Labour Party conference is going to be a lively debate and the prime minister has to think about the reaction he is getting.'
Another 'senior union source' was quoted as saying, 'The issue will not go away. We'll keep banging the drum. Our members will strike if the government continues with creeping privatisation of schools and hospitals.'
Blair managed to stop trade unionists voicing their anger at his neo-liberal policies at the TUC. But he has not quelled the anger at the way his government continues to encourage big business to wreck our hospitals and schools. We need to make sure that Blair hears loud and clear the opposition he tried to silence at the TUC at next weekend's New Labour conference.
We have to tell Blair we won't be silenced, and mobilise as many people as possible to the protests outside New Labour's conference in Brighton on 30 September.