Socialist Worker

'Blair has betrayed us on every issue'

The war is Tony Blair's greatest crime, but six years of New Labour has brought shattered hopes on issues such as pensions, health and low pay. Socialist Worker spoke to people at the sharp end who believe Blair has to go

Issue No. 1843

'I WAS in the Labour Party for 30 years, from 1970 onwards. I was active in every by-election, council election and general election. I began to get disillusioned with Labour in their first term. There is a long list of reasons-trade union rights, the paucity of the minimum wage, PFI, student grants, the treatment of asylum seekers and, of course, education.

I was a teacher. I said if Labour brought in performance-related pay I would resign from the Labour Party. They brought it in. I resigned from Labour in November 2000, but they didn't want me to resign my seat as a local city councillor.

For two years I have been an independent socialist councillor. This year I intend to stand for the Socialist Alliance.'
Brian Penny, councillor, Lancaster

'PEOPLE HAD high hopes that Labour would look at human rights. In fact they have abused human rights. The Terrorism Act is more draconian than any other act for the last 100 years. We have detention without trial. They have allowed the tabloids to create a climate where 'asylum seeker' and 'terrorist' mean the same thing.

In my experience of working with asylum seekers, I would say nine out of ten legitimate cases are turned down. The Home Office doesn't give a damn if people have kids, or if they have been raped and tortured.'
Aamer Anwar, civil rights lawyer, Glasgow

'WE WERE delighted when Labour got in, but we have ended up with the Tories Mark B. We have just had a green paper on the civil servants' pension scheme. People were expecting to be able to retire and draw their pensions out-now we have been told that we have to work another five years or accept less.

Blair is hiving off big chunks of the civil service to private companies. The 'modernisation agenda' they go on about means breaking down the jobs so we get less training and less pay. Blair isn't listening to us over anything-not over the war, or privatisation, or pay.'
Deedee, civil servant, Liverpool

'AS A trade unionist, I am an angry man. How could the Labour Party call trade unionists wreckers? I don't think we should support these people with our money. Life hasn't got any better for the people coming into my shop. The wise people say this is another Tory government. Nobody likes Tony Blair. People feel betrayed.

It is getting worse to live in Bethnal Green. People are getting more desperate. The old people who come into the shop are always complaining and counting their pennies. Nothing has been delivered for people like us.'
Iftikhar Ul-Haq, shop worker, Bethnal Green, east London

'I FIRST voted for the Labour Party in 1945. Since then, I never missed voting Labour in any election. I once lived near Cheltenham where they doffed their caps to the squire and curtsied to his missus.

They were true blue, but I voted Labour and I let them know it. I was disappointed with Blair even before he got elected because he dumped the red flag and Clause Four.

Since then I have seen things just falling away. This isn't the party I loved and that me and my husband worked so hard for through the 1950s and 1960s. My three daughters were all brought up to preach the gospel of socialism, as my husband used to say. We kept saying, well, Blair has a lot to make up after Thatcher. But nothing seemed to get better.

We saw the NHS deteriorating. Labour said they were spending millions on it but I was a nurse, my daughter is a nurse, and my granddaughter is a nurse, so we know what is happening. Another daughter is a teacher, a wonderful teacher, but her workload is terrible.

And then there was the firefighters' strike. All these things made us fall out with Tony Blair, but the war on Iraq was the final straw. The demo in London was wonderful. The young people made me so proud. They were just like I used to be.

I felt that that day a great light was lit that we have to keep burning. Even if they go to war we have to keep protesting. I was in the Labour Party for 58 years, but six weeks ago me and my daughters left and joined the Socialist Workers Party.'
Eva Littlefair, pensioner, Preston

'I'M UP to my ears in debt and so is nearly everyone I work with in the Post Office. We get by through borrowing and juggling credit cards. God knows what will happen if the interest rate goes up. New Labour has meant hard labour for me. I'm not starry-eyed about politicians and I didn't think Blair would change much. But I did think things might not get worse.

I just feel squeezed and I think hope is going out of society. You don't feel your kids' lives will be better than yours. Young people must feel that the odds are stacked against them and I think that's why a few get drawn into crime. Blair has created a society that is so bitterly divided and it's getting worse. He's absolutely on the side of the rich-look at what they're doing to bring selection in for schools and making it harder to go to college. Blair has to go, and I don't think Gordon Brown would be better either.'
Andy Peters, Manchester

'FIREFIGHTERS WERE very supportive of the Labour Party and helped get it in. Now we face vilification for launching a legitimate pay claim. We are in a bitter battle to defend the fire service.

Most Labour MPs have lost any socialist principles they once had. It's not just Blair. I spoke to a longstanding Derbyshire MP on a lobby. He said the problem was the government is reluctant to raise taxes on people to pay for services.

I said what about using the money more wisely, and asked him how much this war will cost. He sped off, saying he had another appointment. Firefighters have had enough of being treated with contempt. That's true of other public sector workers as well.'
Matt Lee, chair of the Fire Brigades Union in Derbyshire

'IN THE last five years I've found it harder and harder to get by on my pension. The basic pension is £75.50 a week but, like most women, I don't get the full amount because I didn't get enough national insurance stamps. I get £58 a week-which isn't enough to live on. I wonder if most people know that after six years of a Labour government the average basic pension a woman gets is £51.24-I saw that in a report from Help the Aged last month.

The Labour government has done nothing to make lives better. I see pensioners everywhere who are short of good food, short of a holiday, short of a decent coat. They're a sort of grey background to life, poor and ignored. Blair is a complete let-down. I hate his war policy, but it has shown up that there is always money for the things they think are important.'
Alice Mearns, West Midlands

'I'M A hospital cleaner on £4.70 an hour. I've been in Britain 28 years, I came from Jamaica. When I arrived here people told me there was a Tory party that looked after the rich and a Labour Party that looked after the poor. I now realise that I must have misheard them. In fact there are two parties that look after the rich and none that looks after the poor.

It's a punishing job in the hospital, hard physical work. But I like it because you feel part of a caring team and part of something worthwhile. But New Labour does not care for us at all. We are privatised and the company gives us no sick pay scheme. I can't believe the government is letting more privatisation happen in the NHS.'
Marlena Griffiths, East London

'THIS IS a bloody murderous government and I'm enraged about the war. But I think in all its other policies New Labour have shown the same contempt for anyone but the powerful and the rich.

Life's all right for the people at the top but it's harder than ever for the rest of us. I work long, long hours and I'm expected to be flexible for the employer. I don't get any consideration in return if my child is ill or if I'm a bit late because I have to take her to the doctors.

All this stuff about 'family-friendly' from the government is just so many words. It means nothing for most people. It costs £120 a week for my child at a council-run nursery. Gordon Brown makes great play of tax credits.

But firstly they are incredibly complicated to claim, and secondly if you earn anything but real poverty pay then you're not eligible.'
Janet Hanley, North London


1997

MAY New Labour elected with 179 seat majority-the largest for any single party since 1924. Chancellor Gordon Brown gives unelected Bank of England control over interest rates.

JULY Brown's first budget promises to stick to Tory spending limits for two years, bringing more cuts to cash-starved services. He helps business by cutting corporation tax from 33 percent to 31 percent. Government announces it will scrap student grants and introduce tuition fees.

AUGUST Fat cats brought into government. New ministers include BP boss Lord Simon. Clare Short, international development secretary, causes outrage by saying that people fleeing a volcano in Montserrat will 'want golden elephants next'.

SEPTEMBER Seven people die in Southall rail crash. Government refuses to renationalise rail.

NOVEMBER New Labour forced to return £1 million donation from Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

DECEMBER New Labour's 'welfare reform'-lone parent benefit cuts of £5 to £11 a week, and attacks on disability benefits. A total of 47 Labour MPs vote against cuts for lone parents. Cuts cause wave of protest.


1998

JANUARY Liverpool dockers forced to end dispute after 28 months. The government was the biggest single shareholder in the Mersey Docks and Harbour company.

MARCH Gordon Brown's second budget cuts corporation tax on company profits to 30 percent. John Prescott announces plan for 'Public-Private Partnership' for London Underground-privatisation.

JUNE New Labour sets meagre rate for minimum wage-£3.60 an hour for workers over 21, £3 an hour for 18 to 21 year olds.

JULY Labour insiders who have become lobbyists are accused of using their contacts to gain privileged access for their clients.

SEPTEMBER Factory closures and big job losses in Fujitsu, Siemens and other industries in Britain. Labour refuses to intervene to save jobs.

DECEMBER Britain and US launch air strikes on Iraq, dropping 400 cruise missiles. New Labour also backs sanctions on Iraq that have caused 500,000 child deaths in all. Peter Mandelson forced to resign from cabinet after revelation that millionaire Treasury minister Geoffrey Robinson lent him £373,000 to buy a house. Robinson was also forced to resign.


1999

FEBRUARY Alun Michael, Blair's favourite, becomes New Labour candidate to head Welsh Assembly after rigged contest. Macpherson report into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence finds police guilty of 'institutionalised racism'. Tony Blair and Jack Straw defend Paul Condon, head of the Metropolitan Police.

MARCH NATO launches air strikes on Serbia.

JULY Blair writes article, 'Why I've Declared War On Welfare', launching systematic assault on benefits.

OCTOBER Another horrific rail disaster in Paddington underlines the catastrophic state of the network. This time 33 people die. Government still refuses to renationalise the railways. Pensioners told they will receive just 75p a week extra.

NOVEMBER Government announces big cuts in incapacity benefits. 52 Labour MPs vote against the plans.

DECEMBER John Prescott announces the privatisation of air traffic control three years after Andrew Smith MP told Labour's conference, 'Our air is not for sale.' Retired miners at a meeting in Wigan last year were still waiting for New Labour to deliver on compensation over occupational diseases contracted at work Paddington: a privatised disaster


2000

FEBRUARY Government announces plan to privatise all council homes in Britain.

APRIL New Labour's policy over refugees is 'giving life to racists', says TGWU union leader Bill Morris, as press and politicians whip up hysteria over refugees.

MAY Ken Livingstone elected as mayor of London, defeating Labour's attempt to block him.

JUNE Blair is heckled and slow hand-clapped at the Women's Institute, in a display of the growing disillusion with his government. 58 Chinese refugees found dead in the back of a lorry in Dover. Government presses ahead with attacks on asylum seekers. United Nations report condemns level of child poverty in Blair's Britain.

JULY Shock figures show that New Labour invests less in the National Health Service than the previous Tory government. Meanwhile, official statistics show gap between rich and poor continues to grow.

SEPTEMBER Government refuses to restore the link between pensions and earnings.

OCTOBER Yet another rail disaster, as four die in Hatfield rail crash. Government still refuses to renationalise rail.


2001

JANUARY Peter Mandelson forced to resign from cabinet again over favours to the super-rich Hinduja brothers.

FEBRUARY Britain and US launch missile strikes on Baghdad.

JUNE Blair announces massive privatisation drive, threatening 'most fundamental reform of public services for many years'. Labour wins general election but turnout is just 59 percent, the lowest ever. New Labour gets one million fewer votes than when it lost under Neil Kinnock in 1992.

JULY Government announces further plans to slash incapacity benefit. Blair condemns 'mindless thuggery' of Asian people fighting back against the Nazis in Bradford.

AUGUST David Blunkett and Burnley council ban an Anti Nazi League carnival.

SEPTEMBER Blair ignores pleas for peace to stand with George Bush and prepares for an attack on Afghanistan.

OCTOBER Railtrack collapses but Labour pushes ahead with privatising London Underground.

NOVEMBER Official report shows patients are waiting longer than ever in accident and emergency departments.


2002

JANUARY New Labour now known to have taken money from Enron, the US energy giant which collapsed in scandal.

FEBRUARY Blair calls public sector workers 'wreckers'. Blunkett launches new assault on asylum seekers, saying they must speak English at home.

MARCH Blair once promised to prioritise 'education, education, education', but 40,000 striking London teachers disagreed.

MAY Another rail disaster at Potters Bar. Labour has still not renationalised the railways.

JUNE Blair still claims to prioritise education, but 30,000 striking college lecturers disagree.

JULY New Labour preaches the need for 'partnership' between bosses and workers. A million striking council workers disagree.

SEPTEMBER Blair's long awaited dossier on Iraq is unveiled. Central allegation that Iraq has been trying to obtain uranium from Africa now exposed as a deliberate fraud.

OCTOBER Labour conference sees revolt over the war and PFI. Government stops fire service employers making an offer. Firefighters strike. And in 2003.....


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Features
Sat 22 Mar 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1843
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