Socialist Worker

Byers' fall shows Blair's weakness

Issue No. 1802

STEPHEN BYERS' resignation has struck right at the heart of New Labour. He was one of Blair's closest ministers. As trade secretary and then transport secretary he was at the centre of this government's obsession with privatisation and policies for big business.

The media and the Tories want us to focus on the trivia and gossip surrounding Byers' fall-what did he say or not say and to who? Incredibly, the right wing say he had to go because he was too hard on business. But the real reason for his unpopularity among ordinary people who voted for this government is that he failed to meet any of their concerns.

Far from 'renationalising' Railtrack last year, he merely took it off one set of far cats to hand it to another. And he continued shovelling hundreds of millions of pounds of public money to the private rail companies and contractors such as Jarvis, responsible for the track at the Potters Bar crash.

Byers' weakness is the weakness of New Labour-it is desperately out of touch with ordinary people. Blair's response to every other domestic political storm has been to move to reassure the rich and powerful even more.

That is now coupled with echoing nasty right wing prejudices that scapegoat the vulnerable. Byers' resignation changes none of that. It does, however, show how fragile New Labour is.

Trade union leaders now have no excuse for holding back the immense feeling for a serious fight against privatisation, pay curbs and all the other policies Byers championed.

Stand up against this scapegoating

THE PRESS and politicians sank to new depths in their attacks on refugees last week. New Labour and the Tories tried to outbid each other on who could be the most brutal.

Blair is pushing the French government to close the Sangatte refugee camp. He wants to force refugees fleeing war, poverty and persecution away from Britain. Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith followed up with, 'Not one Sangatte migrant should be let in.' Smith wants to rebuild his party through old-style Tory scapegoating.

New Labour is in the gutter with him. It is using anti-refugee language that originates from the far right. Blair wants to use warships to confront refugees in the Mediterranean sea. He also wants to cut aid to countries that don't accept the return of refugees including war torn, impoverished Somalia.

New Labour even wants to hire military planes to force refugees out from Britain. New Labour gives in to all the racist arguments whipped up over refugees because it has no answer to the frustration ordinary people feel. Across Britain people's lives are racked by insecurity.

They struggle through transport and health chaos, and fear their children aren't getting a decent education. People know New Labour isn't solving these problems.

Refugees can become a target for all that frustration when the press and politicians constantly feed the lie that asylum seekers are a drain on resources in society.

All those opposed to racism have a duty to make a stand against the gutter politics and scapegoating of New Labour, the Tories and the press. That means putting the basic arguments we carry on our front page wherever you can. And it means going all out to make the Stop the War on Refugees demonstration on 22 June as big as possible.

College lecturers strike

PICKETS WERE outside Tower Hamlets College in east London on Tuesday morning. They were among 30,000 further education college lecturers in the Natfhe union who struck on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week over pay. There were large pickets at many colleges across England and Wales.

Some 50 people picketed at Bradford College where 'a couple of people joined on the picket line' and 'some members of the support staff in the Unison union refused to cross'. Rallies also took place in many cities and towns.

There is immense anger at the insulting 1.5 percent pay offer lecturers have been offered. Up to a quarter of college lecturers have yet to receive last year's pay rise which was due on 1 August.

The Natfhe national conference this weekend was due to hear calls for further strikes over pay.

Just as elsewhere in the public sector there is a growing mood for taking action alongside other groups of workers.

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Article information

What We Think
Sat 1 Jun 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1802
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