TONY BLAIR is marching towards the deepest crisis he has yet faced. He is caught in the jaws of mounting opposition on two fronts. Delegates at the TUC conference this week ripped into his craven support for Bush's war against Iraq, and into the heart of New Labour - profit before people. They backed the firefighters, who are heading for national strikes next month against low pay. Those union leaders who spoke out echoed the clear majority of people in Britain.
Blair got a lukewarm reception at the TUC on Tuesday as he attempted to derail opposition to the war. He tried to win support for attacking Iraq by suggesting the United Nations Security Council could back it. But whichever states back war, millions know that it is wrong. The atmosphere has changed in every workplace, college and community over the last two months.
Everywhere people are talking about politics. Not about arrogant politicians and their lacklustre parties, but about the things that matter, like the war, fighting low pay, and reversing 25 years of the bosses having the upper hand. People are stirring. Support is snowballing for the mass anti-war demonstration in London two weeks this Saturday. It could be the biggest peace march for decades.
Workers in every industry are desperate to see the firefighters win and open the door to a fight for decent pay for everyone. Hundreds of thousands of people who have slogged their guts out for 20 or 30 years are raging as one profitable company after another rips up their pension schemes.
Blair is isolated at home and abroad. He is fuelling a crisis over the war by ignoring what two in three people believe. He is hardening the mood for action among workers by curbing pay rises and continuing privatisation. At the same time his government has just handed £410 million to the directors of British Energy, a private electricity giant. That is enough to settle the firefighters' pay claim.
The opposition on both fronts could come together to bury Blair, dealing a huge blow to Bush's global war plans. It could unleash the pent-up bitterness of five years and more. It could do all that. But we saw this week how TUC leaders like John Monks, and the general secretaries of some big unions, sought to dampen clear opposition to the war. They lost the argument, but voted through a watered-down motion. The same pressure for compromise will be on over every battle in the coming months. No one can win those battles for us.
Stopping the war depends on a huge and militant anti-war movement. The size of the anti-war demonstration on 28 September is crucial to building that. Victory for the firefighters and a revolt over low pay depend ultimately on the determination of 55,000 Fire Brigades Union members and solidarity from other workers.
Every call for action from union leaders (and they are more frequent now) is important because they encourage people to fight back. It is mass, collective resistance that gives Blair nightmares. Let's give him a taste of that in two weeks time.