THE FIREFIGHTERS' strike has lifted the lid on the operations of a tightly knit group of intensely political men. They are the unelected bankers, media barons and industry chiefs who control the crucial levers of power. Without having to formally make an agreement they know that at key moments like this they have to set aside their rivalries and line up against a common enemy - workers in struggle.
So Rupert Murdoch and Viscount Rothermere tell their newspapers to dredge up every lie and slur against the Fire Brigades Union, its leaders and its members. Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England, says that any concession to the firefighters and other public sector workers will unleash economic disaster with hyperinflation and soaring interest rates. Digby Jones, the head of the bosses' Confederation of British Industry, denounces the firefighters for their 'me, me' philosophy.
Such people give a glimpse of the tiny elite that fights against workers' rights and defends power and privilege throughout the world. A very small group of people dominate the British economy. Just 1,048 directors control companies that have a turnover of £1,000 billion. These are the fat cats who make key decisions about investment, and decide when a plant is closed and how much the people at the top of the company can grab through the sweat of their workers.
None of these gilded 1,000 is satisfied with just sitting on a single board of directors. They are on the boards of banks and industrial firms and privatised service providers and many more.
Sir Arthur Knight, the former chairman of Courtaulds, once said, 'It is too often forgotten that 80 percent of our manufacturing industry is run by 400 firms in each of which three or four people are responsible for the key strategic decisions - say 1,500 people at most.
'And in the investing industry (the banks, pension funds and insurance companies) I would guess that the number of key individuals is even smaller.' Instead of confronting this elite's wealth and power, the Labour government has feted them and welcomed them into its inner circles. Just look at the men on these pages. New Labour wooed Rupert Murdoch in order to get the Sun on board for the 1997 election.
The payoff was 'flexible' media laws which will make it even easier for Murdoch to grab more control, and a tax system which lets him keep his wealth.
Murdoch has been a regular visitor to 10 Downing Street, and Blair phoned the Italian prime minister in 1998 to try to get him to back Murdoch's expansion into Italy.
When Gordon Brown went to the CBI conference in Manchester recently he cheerfully shook hands with Digby Jones and promised that the government would continue to work closely with business leaders. Eddie George was handed huge power when one of New Labour's first acts in government was to give the Bank of England the independent power to set interest rates.
That meant he could decide how much you pay on your mortgage and what your credit card costs. He has huge influence on economic policy without the slightest democratic check on him.
The Monetary Policy Committee that aids George in setting interest rates has heavy business influence on it. One member is Sir Andrew Large, who was until recently deputy chairman of Barclays Bank.
Another member is Kate Barker, who was previously chief economic adviser to the CBI and before that chief economist at Ford Europe. The ruling class is linked by going to the same schools, meeting at the same clubs, sitting on the same boards of directors and living the same luxury lifestyles.
Its tentacles reach into government, the judiciary and the armed forces. Over two thirds of judges went to public school. This is the same as when Labour came to office. The firefighters' strike has exposed who are the real enemies of working class people.
Media baron I
RUPERT MURDOCH owner of the Sun
SUN OWNER Rupert Murdoch is one of the world's richest men, with £4 billion. He owns five luxury homes and an island. In the 1980s his Sun and Times newspapers backed Margaret Thatcher to the hilt as she took on the unions, including the miners.
In 1986 Murdoch transferred production of his newspapers to a new printing plant in Wapping, east London, to break the unions. He sacked 5,000 print workers. Four days after the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster in which 96 people died the Sun's front page read, 'The truth: some fans picked pockets of victims; some fans urinated on the brave cops; some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life.'
Every one of these claims was a lie. The Sun has called on Blair 'to do a Maggie Thatcher' and smash the firefighters' strike.
DIGBY JONES head of the CBI
DIGBY JONES, the leader of the bosses' CBI organisation, attacked the 'me, me' attitude from 'another age' of the firefighters. But he refuses to criticise executives of major companies who give themselves massive pay rises.
Jones gets £280,000 as CBI head. He also gets £30,000 as a director of software firm iSOFTplc. He sits on the international advisory board of US law firm Buchanan Ingersoll. In 1998 he joined financial consultants KPMG as vice-chairman of corporate finance.
He is living proof of the culture of interlocking directorships. He has been a non-executive director and chairman of several companies. Digby Jones is not one of the top industrialists but he acts as a spokesperson for their interests.
Fat cat banker
SIR EDWARD GEORGE governor of the Bank of England
EDWARD GEORGE went to a posh public school, Dulwich College in south London. It is so rich that its corridors are hung with paintings worth up to £2 million each. Boarders at the school now pay fees of over £18,000 a year. He then went to the elite Emmanuel College, Cambridge, before smoothing into the world of banking.
He gets £280,000 a year for his Bank of England job. He has set his face against the firefighters.
'Even a moderate settlement could lead to an explosion,' says fat cat George. 'You get a generalised push on inflation, starting in the private sector but spreading to the public sector too.' George has consistently insulted ordinary people. 'Job losses are a price worth paying to keep inflation low,' he said in 1998.
Media baron II
VISCOUNT ROTHERMERE owner of the Daily Mail
JONATHAN Harmsworth became Lord Rothermere IV in 1998. At the age of 30 he inherited his family's controlling stake in a media empire along with a fortune of £1.3 billion.
This was tax free due to his father's habit of spending just 80 days a year in Britain, preferring his luxury homes in Paris and New York. As well as the Daily Mail, the family also owns the Evening Standard and Metro along with 71 local and regional newspapers, Teletext, 20 percent of ITN, a share of radio group GWR, and 71 percent of Euromoney.
The previous Lord Rothermere surprised everyone by supporting Labour after 1997. Tony Blair said, 'I grew to value his company, his conversation and his basic decency.'