NEW LABOUR is facing its biggest challenge yet from the unions. The strike of one million council workers, the election of left wing general secretaries, and the number of left wing motions at the coming TUC congress in September have all got Tony Blair worried.
'A government source said he was deeply concerned that the restraining forces inside the TUC had been eroded after the defeat of Sir Ken Jackson as leader of Amicus,' the Guardian newspaper said last Saturday. The motions sent to the TUC congress call for opposition to the government's PFI privatisation deal and the repeal of swathes of the anti-union laws that aim to stop workers striking.
Tony Blair's beloved polls show he is in a weak position against the unions. The strikes by low paid council workers, and rail and tube workers, have overwhelming public support. A Guardian poll found that 59 percent, including 61 percent of Labour voters, backed the strikes. This support is all the more remarkable given media attacks on the strikes-for example, the London Evening Standard's vicious campaign against the tube workers.
Blair privately met Derek Simpson, the left winger who beat Jackson, last week. Blair wants to build bridges with the more 'moderate' of the left wing union leaders to stamp out the growing revolt among trade unionists. According to the Guardian he is trying to isolate the so called 'awkward squad'-including John Edmonds of the GMB union, Mark Serwotka of the civil servants' PCS union, and Bob Crow of the rail workers' RMT union. Millions of trade unionists are sick of low pay, long hours and privatisation. They are sick of their leaders backing a government that loves up to big business while ignoring the needs of ordinary people.
The union leaders have to respond to this mood or face being kicked out. Council workers are set to strike on Wednesday 14 August and again in September. Firefighters are set to hold a national ballot for strike action over pay in September.
Rail workers on First North Western and Arriva are to strike in August. All this is turning the heat up on Tony Blair. Against this background of rising struggle it is outrageous that Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, has given up in his court battle against the government's plans to privatise the London Underground.
Livingstone has let down the hundreds of thousands of people who voted for him two years ago because he opposed the sell-off of the tube. Now New Labour will push ahead with handing over the tube to two consortiums of private companies-including notorious firms such as Amey, Jarvis and Balfour Beatty.
They will wreck our tube just like they wrecked our railways. There are rumours that Livingstone pulled out of the case because of a deal with New Labour to give him their second preference votes in the next election for London mayor.
But the way to fight privatisation isn't this kind of manoeuvre. Livingstone could have kept the case going and mobilised thousands of Londoners to oppose New Labour's plans. Instead he has just thrown in the towel. Livingstone's failure shows why we can't look to the courts or individuals to challenge Tony Blair. The real force to stop the crazy PPP privatisation scheme for the tube lies with tube workers.
They showed they have the power, with their strike two weeks ago against the way privatisation will wreck safety standards. It virtually shut down the tube network. The RMT is discussing more action on the tubes, but we can't just rely on the union leaders to deliver action.
It is the growing mood among workers for strikes, and the huge opposition to the planned war on Iraq, that means we can build massive resistance to Blair's pro-market policies. From this we can build the biggest possible left wing alternative to New Labour.