Socialist Worker

"We should be making a noise for our issues"

by Helen Shooter reports from Blackpool
Issue No. 1804

A KEY New Labour policy was roundly attacked at the conference of the MSF section of the Amicus union that began in Blackpool last weekend. Amicus is Britain's second biggest union. It was created this year after the merger of the MSF and AEEU unions.

Delegates condemned New Labour's privatisation of public services through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and Public Private Partnership (PPP). Gill George, a health delegate from London, said, 'This is about not compromising in our opposition to privatisation. 'Our union leadership have talked about 'partnership', 'modernisation', and 'commercial opportunities for the private sector'.

'As a health worker I find it extraordinary that my union calls on my behalf for big business to make money out of sick people.' Ray Fitzgerald, a delegate from Clerkenwell in London, said, 'We should oppose privatisation and all the other names given to it like PFI and PPP. They are all about partnership with the private sector. 'Public ownership is the best way to deliver services.'

The MSF executive was eager to deliver union support for Labour's privatisation. Delegates were determined to show their opposition. The conference agreed that 'the campaign for public services should include the organisation of a mass demonstration and agrees to campaign for this inside the TUC'. Many delegates spoke of the devastation caused by mass job losses in the manufacturing industry. Some 450,000 jobs have been axed in manufacturing in the last five years under New Labour.

Delegates loudly applauded Ray Morell, a BAe Systems worker and London MSF delegate, who said, 'We have this debate year after year as the job losses increase. 'Our union sponsors many Labour MPs. Why aren't we making a noise so they intervene for us? If they won't then we should consider what we do with our political fund money and what we are getting for it. This is exactly what the CWU and RMT unions are discussing and we should do the same.'

Vince Butler, a Coventry delegate, proposed an emergency motion that supported TUC leader John Monks' description of Tony Blair as 'bloody stupid' for his alliance with right wing Italian leader Berlusconi.

'We should put a shot across Tony Blair's bows,' said Vince. 'We should take on everybody, including the Labour Party, until they give us our employment and trade union rights at work.' However, the mood of much of the conference was subdued.

Delegates were aware of the impact of their union's merger with the AEEU. Many policies voted for by MSF delegates, particularly those critical of New Labour, are at odds with those of the AEEU.

The MSF leadership cannot give any assurances whether the policies passed at the conference will go on to become those of the Amicus union. MSF leader Roger Lyons has spoken out against attacks on pension schemes. He reported that 90 percent of members would strike if their employer tried to switch their pension to the stock market.

The press took up his speech, but it was barely mentioned on conference floor. This reflected a feeling of cynicism among delegates that Lyons is more keen on newspaper headlines than seriously taking on New Labour.


MSF back refugees

DELEGATES overwhelmingly voted to support the 22 June demonstration for refugees in London and protests outside detention centres on 15 June.

'I've been to the Dungavel refugee detention centre in Scotland,' said delegate Graham Winters from Scotland. 'It's like a concentration camp. Get onto your MP, get on the demonstration-let's get this policy on refugees stopped.'


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News
Sat 15 Jun 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1804
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