Socialist Worker

A turning point

Issue No. 1809

WEDNESDAY'S walkout by over one million council workers is the biggest strike yet under Tony Blair. It has brought the reality of life for millions of working people-low pay and insecurity-to the streets of hundreds of towns and cities.

Anger at the widening gulf between rich and poor has been building for years. This strike has focused that feeling. More importantly it has shown millions of workers it is possible to do something about it. We can fight back, despite the doomsayers in parliament and the media. The vote by London tube workers to strike this week over privatisation is a further sign of growing resistance.

The RMT rail union called the strike to coincide with the council workers', adding to the chorus of demands for united action by our unions. This week began with an incredible vote in the engineering union for a relatively unknown left wing challenger.

The final result was not known when Socialist Worker went to press. But tens of thousands of workers, mainly in the private sector, had said no to 'partnership' with their bosses and to pro-Blair policies in their union. Tony Blair's closest allies will already be worrying about what could happen in the elections for the leadership of Britain's two biggest manual workers' unions, the TGWU and GMB, next year.

All this is happening just as the pro-market capitalist ideology at the centre of New Labour is taking a pounding across the globe-nowhere more so than in its heartland, the US. President George Bush basked in record opinion poll ratings until three weeks ago.

Since then he has had to go on television repeatedly to try to explain away his own involvement in the corrupt financial practices that are now coming to light in scores of major companies. Much more than Bush's reputation is at stake. The turmoil on the stockmarkets and the threat of world recession are shattering faith in the system he and Blair champion.

In Britain millions of people who have put money into pension schemes now find the hope of a secure retirement is being taken away from them. They and many more have a bitter taste of what chancellor Gordon Brown on Monday blithely called the 'opportunities of the global economy'.

That makes the resistance in the unions even more significant. It is not only about entirely justified campaigns for decent pay and against privatisation. It is also central to building a movement which begins to challenge the whole system Blair and Bush uphold. We have seen in the last two years the development of a global movement against capitalism.

That movement has been expressed most sharply through the series of great demonstrations from Seattle in 1999 to Genoa last year, and Seville and Barcelona more recently. The same feeling against the system and what it does to people's lives is spreading to large numbers of working people.

This week's strikes focused around immediate questions like pay. But they were also influenced by that wider mood. The challenge now is to fuse these two currents together.

Solidarity and links between activists are the key steps to both developing the mood to resist at the base of the unions, and to shaping an alternative to New Labour and the system it champions.

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What We Think
Sat 20 Jul 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1809
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