Socialist Worker

Blair sees FBU as enemy within

Issue No. 1827

'SCARGILLITE' is how Tony Blair attacks the firefighters' union. But it is not Scargillism that is threatening our livelihoods and public services - it is Thatcherism, the doctrine of Blair's New Labour government. On every front those at the core of this government are pushing right wing policies animated by the spirit of the former Tory leader. Education secretary Charles Clarke and his sidekick Margaret Hodge are two of New Labour's 'ultras'. They are determined to force students to pay 'top-up' fees of up to £10,000 to go to some colleges. Clarke also wants to force every student to pay fees, regardless of their or their parents' income.

The aim is to create a two-tier higher education system - with elite colleges for the rich, and debt and second class education for everyone else. Back in the early 1980s Margaret Thatcher's guru was Keith Joseph, a man so fanatically right wing he was nicknamed the 'mad monk'. Yet when Joseph was education secretary even he rejected the idea of introducing the kind of fees the government now wants to impose. 'Modernisation' is New Labour's mantra for all our public services.

It stands for a Thatcherite agenda of pushing the market and private business into every sphere, and creating two-tier services. In the NHS another New Labour zealot, health secretary Alan Milburn, is pushing through 'foundation' hospitals which will mean a two-tier health service. This is being accompanied by a continuing drive to privatise whole swathes of the NHS.

The same elitist logic lies behind the government's push for more selection in our schools and the drive for a 'post-comprehensive' school system. Everywhere one thing above all stands in the way of New Labour's right wing crusade - opposition to its plans from workers and their unions who are defending public services and demanding decent pay for those who provide them. Just as Thatcher denounced striking miners as 'the enemy within', so Blair wants to take on the union movement.

That is why the firefighters' dispute is central for both the government and for everyone who opposes New Labour's plans. The Financial Times business paper argues that the clash with the firefighters is 'a defining moment for the government'. It argues, 'Just as Margaret Thatcher's stand against the miners destroyed militancy for a generation, a firm stand against the firefighters is essential to fend off an explosion in public sector pay.'

Former New Labour spin doctor Charlie Whelan this week put it bluntly: 'Blair's agenda is obvious. 'He just wants to give the unions a bloody nose.'

The spirit shown when firefighters struck last week, and the solidarity they won, showed how it can be Blair that gets a bloody nose. Socialist Worker did not know as we went to press on Tuesday whether the firefighters' strike planned to start on Friday would go ahead. We do know that the stakes in this fight are high, and that the power is there to ensure it is our side that wins.

And we do know that many other groups of workers are also either in, or lining up for, crucial battles too. A wave of revolt against low pay is spreading across the NHS (see page 15). Higher education workers in London struck last week (see page 14). Next Tuesday teachers, classroom assistants and council workers in the capital will be out. The union leaders should build on this revolt, encouraging more workers to take action over pay and conditions.

We urge all our readers to throw themselves into building the solidarity and united action which can ensure that this 'defining moment' is one for our side to celebrate, and for Blair to regret.


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