Socialist Worker

Fighting Blair on both fronts

Issue No. 1819

FIVE SOCIALISTS and trade unionists spoke to Socialist Worker about how the movement to stop the war is connected to the fight they face against bosses at work and the government.

Post worker

FRAN CHOULES is a postal worker and CWU union rep in Exeter. He has been discussing with his workmates about why they should oppose an attack on Iraq.

'About half the people where I work are pro-war and about half are against. There are a few who are gung-ho and a few undecided,' explains Fran. 'There are five us who are in the Socialist Workers Party, and what we've argued has made a real difference. We put up a poster for the anti-war demo which was taken down several times. But when we put up a notice saying Billy Hayes, the general secretary of the CWU, was behind it it stayed up.

'This sparked off a discussion about the war. We put arguments about what the war is about and why it is that the US has the biggest monopoly of weapons. Not everyone agreed with us, and a few are still gung-ho, but most are willing to listen to arguments. Some people began to make the links between Bush and the oil interests in the Middle East.

'I also find that if you chat to people on an individual level you can open up a really good debate. I've been going round local delivery offices to try and win a yes vote in our ballot against privatisation. I've never seen such anger against the government. I've had people shouting out, 'Are we still giving them the money?' Two workers made the connection between the privatisation we face here, and the poverty and privatisation we see in the Third World.'

Tube worker

UNJUM MIRZA is a tube worker and health and safety rep for the RMT union in Stratford, east London. He will be out on strike on Tuesday.

'When Blair said he was prepared to pay the 'blood price' of war with Iraq, many of us saw an immediate connection with privatisation,' says Unjum. 'We have, on a smaller scale, been paying the blood price here, with death and disasters on the privatised railways, and now the tube system facing similar fragmentation.

'The same corporations that reap the profits from privatisation - the likes of Jarvis and Balfour Beatty - are connected to the corporations that reap the profits of war. We are striking next week over pay. We can't afford to live in London on our wages. But our fight is about safety and privatisation too. I always try to show that the battles we are fighting are not separate.

'Now is the best time to be a socialist for a long time. Every issue connects with every other. Even those who tell me they are not political often end up having a rant against Blair, against privatisation, and about what's going to happen to Iraq. We've had a lot of discussions about Israel and Palestine. We have a lot of Asian staff, but they are not the only people to raise these questions. One Jewish worker who used to support Israel told me he just cannot stomach what Ariel Sharon is doing to the Palestinians.

'A big anti-war movement that takes on Blair can give confidence to us in our fight against Blair over what he's doing to the tube. In London I hope that as many people as possible who have been part of fighting against the war also join us on the picket lines on Tuesday and Wednesday.'

Teacher

CHARLOTTE AHMED is a teacher who lives in Glasgow. She is in the Scottish teachers' union, EIS, and is a member of the Scottish Socialist Party.

She says, 'Most of the people I work with are against the war, although I've had arguments with people about the role of the United Nations and whether it can stop the war. There are a couple of people from the school where I work coming on the demonstration. Many others have given money for the transport.

'People can see the link with the fact that there is money for war and bombs, but no money for welfare, or investment in jobs, health, schools and housing. The same system which is forcing us into war is forcing workers to fight back. It is exciting that workers are beginning to take on the bosses who treat them with such contempt.

'In Glasgow we've had strikes of hospital workers against multinational firm Sodexho, an unofficial strike at Inverclyde Royal Hospital, and an unofficial walkout at the Post Office. We've also got an election to the Scottish Parliament next year. We have the prospect of the anger against the war combining with anger against the bosses translating into votes for socialist candidates.'

Engineer

GERRY HICKS is an Amicus-AEEU engineering union convenor who works at Rolls-Royce Test Areas in Bristol. He called a meeting of shop stewards where he works to discuss the war.

'It was a brilliant meeting,' says Gerry. 'People started off talking about the meaning of the word war. Someone made the point that the image conjured up by war is of an evenly matched battle, but that war against Iraq would be absolute slaughter. People remembered the road to Basra when tens of thousands of Iraqis were slaughtered during the 1991 Gulf War.

'Someone mentioned the way the US had killed people at a wedding party during one of the bombing raids on Afghanistan. Then we talked about who is championing this war. It is the same global leaders and big businesses who are tightening the screw on workers around the world.

'One steward said that we had far more in common with workers in Iraq-Iraqi engineers, teachers, firefighters and nurses - than we do with Bush and Blair. We discussed how on a world scale these leaders want power over people. They always talk about us and them. At work it is about us and them.

'The bosses use the same language to inflict power and control over us - to make us work 12-hour shifts, to pay us wages that mean we can't pay the mortgage or have a proper holiday. At the end of the meeting we voted to support the anti-war demonstration.'

Health worker

YUNUS BAKHSH works as a nurse in Newcastle and is a branch secretary in the public sector union Unison. He is also on the union's national executive.

He says, 'I've been a socialist and trade unionist for over 20 years and I can't recall a time when there has been so much opposition in the run-up to a threatened war. There is also trade union opposition on a scale I've never seen before. I was a Unison delegate to the recent TUC congress.

'A whole section of the trade union leadership spoke out against Blair's war drive and made speeches against imperialism. Many of these left wing leaders, and many rank and file delegates, made the connections between the war and the fights we face against the Blair government. If we can begin to unite these two battles we can create an unstoppable movement that can challenge Bush and Blair.'


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Features
Sat 28 Sep 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1819
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