Socialist Worker

Labour conference: anger on streets

Issue No. 1871

THE 2,500-strong protest outside Labour's conference in Bournemouth on Monday showed the anger ordinary people feel at New Labour. The Amicus union organised the demonstration to protest against New Labour standing by while manufacturing jobs are massacred. Sneh Sharma and Pam Degun work at AB Electronics in Romford. They told Socialist Worker, 'No one feels their job is safe any more. Everyone is worried for the future. Every day we fear for our jobs. That's why we are here. But we are also worried that tuition fees will discourage young people from studying. And we want to stop the privatisation of the NHS.'

Willie Black travelled to the demonstration from Edinburgh. He said, 'From the speeches I heard on the demonstration, I could tell there is a mood of anger. It is years since my union called a demonstration at the Labour Party conference. Many on this march have marched and argued against the war, but the mood is general, over lots of issues.'

Brian, who works at RAF Lakenheath, told Socialist Worker 'The feeling I get at work is that it's like being back under the Tories and all the stuff about sleaze. People just don't believe a word Labour say any more. They are angry about what's happened to manufacturing jobs. I am a skilled engineer and I earn about £14,000. And pensions and conditions, but really they are still more pissed off over the war than anything else.'

The Alstom workers, whose jobs are facing the axe, led the march chanting 'Tony Blair doesn't care, he'll betray us anywhere.'

One of them explained, 'We are here to send the government a clear message. We will not sit idly by while our jobs are destroyed. We want those in authority to listen to us.'

Several hundred demonstrators joined a lively protest over the war outside the conference on Tuesday, chanting 'Keep Iraq on the agenda'. Once again the Labour Party refused to allow Socialist Worker to report on the conference. Informants from inside the conference helped us to compile the reports.

Debates fail to express the mood

THE ANGER ordinary people feel and the harsh reality of their lives were rarely allowed to escape onto the floor of the conference. A debate on 'enhancing the quality of life' spent 25 minutes promoting Britain's bid to run the 2012 Olympics. New Labour has managed to gut most political debate from its conference floor. Not all Labour Party members support this.

Many delegates looked sullen faced as one lickspittle after another got up to praise New Labour's 'achievements'. Some delegates struggled to their feet to give deputy leader John Prescott a brief standing ovation. Many stayed seated.

There were some glimpses of the bitterness. Bill Morris, the outgoing leader of the TGWU union, who has held off from openly attacking Blair, demanded greater rights for workers. He said, 'It's not about looking back to a past that never was. It's about fundamental human rights, the right to take legal industrial action, the right to have trade union recognition irrespective of numbers on the pay roll, the right to a fair work life balance. British workers continue to abide by every dot and comma of the law and then get sacked.'

Tony Woodley, the incoming TGWU leader, used his speech in the debate on manufacturing to raise the war on Iraq. He demanded, 'We don't want manufactured dodgy dossiers or charges against George Galloway to expel him from this party of ours.' The leadership and its supporters hoped they could scupper any chance of a discussion on the dominant issue in British politics.

Questions for Blair

'WHAT'S A Labour government for? Plenty of people are asking.' That question from Irene Stacey, a delegate from the Unison union, began her speech about housing and local government policy. 'We have a housing crisis. The government is not doing enough. It's any option as long as it's private.'

Mick Graham, a GMB union delegate, added, 'What happened to fairness and equality? The two-tier workforce should be ended in all areas of the public sector. It's a hell for leather dash to extend PFI in other areas of local government. There's dogma at the highest levels of government against hard working, low paid public sector workers.'

Even the TGWU's Jack Dromey, once notorious as a Blair supporter, said, 'We've had enough of low pay and broken promises on equal pay. We do not accept the pay them low, sack them quick neo-conservative agenda that would not disgrace the White House.'

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Sat 4 Oct 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1871
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