Socialist Worker

TUC delegates angered by warmonger Blair’s speech

by Simon Basketter at the TUC
Issue No. 2018

Issues such as privatisation have enraged rail workers (Pic: Duncan Brown)

Issues such as privatisation have enraged rail workers (Pic: Duncan Brown)

Delegates at TUC conference shook Tony Blair during his speech in Brighton on Tuesday. The anger at Blair for his policies of war and privatisation was clear.

Members of the RMT rail workers’ union delegation and others held up “Time To Go” posters when Blair came into the hall. They then walked out when he began his speech.

Other delegates heckled when he spoke about “defending democracy” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many wore “Troops Out” T-shirts and held up similar placards.

Many of the posters advertised the anti-war demonstration at Labour’s conference on Saturday of next week.

Blair, rocked by the response and the continuing crisis over his prime ministership, felt the need to shout at those opposing him. His defence of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan triggered sustained heckling.

Blair received only polite applause from the rest of the conference when he finished his speech.

Peter Skelly of the RMT union told the BBC, “The walk-out was unanimously voted on by the RMT delegation.

“We are walking out in protest to show how he and his government have betrayed us and the trade union movement over the last ten years.”

After his speech Blair was forced for once to answer questions about the issues which affect workers such as privatisation and union rights.

He was flustered and stuttery. His responses received absolutely no applause. His praise for academies and private operators angered many delegates.

The crisis in the Labour party dominated the conference. TUC leader Brendan Barber tried to call for a toning down of the debate and even attempted to organise a standing ovation for Blair - to no avail.

Union leader after union leader criticised the government harshly. Any mention of opposition to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was met with applause. Any criticism of the government’s policies of privatisation was met with acclaim.

Opposition to Blair ran through the conference.

The underlying mood - that the TUC leaders were trying to dampen down - could be seen when the delegates cheered Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, when he announced the successful strike vote of the workers in NHS Logistics.

Many union leaders are cautiously backing Gordon Brown to be the next leader of the Labour Party.

Derek Simpson, the Amicus union leader, said, “If we don’t have Labour, then we will get the Tories.

“In a limited sense Labour haven’t brought in any worse legislation. But it’s not good enough. The membership of the Labour Party has halved.

“The local government elections were a disaster, the by-elections have been a disaster. The Welsh and Scottish elections will be a disaster. It doesn’t matter which leader we have if we are going in the wrong direction.”

While his support for Brown may go down well among some union leaders, the real mood among many workers against Labour’s policies was seen on the floor of conference.

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