Socialist Worker

‘We’ll have to fight, whoever is in office’

Activists on last Saturday’s anti-war demonstration at the Labour Party conference gave Esme Choonara their views of life after Tony Blair

Issue No. 2020

The prospect of the end of Tony Blair’s rule has created a debate inside the anti-war and trade union movements about what needs to be done to get real change.

The general mood of protesters on last Saturday’s demonstration in Manchester was one of cynicism about Gordon Brown, Blair’s most likely successor.

There was a conviction that the movement will have to keep campaigning whoever takes over.

Maggie Ball, an education worker from Manchester, said “I hate Tony Blair with such a vengeance. I want Blair to go now.

“I don’t support Gordon Brown either and I don’t see why the position should automatically be passed to him - it is not an inherited title.”

Beyond the question of Blair and Brown there is a wider question of whether the Labour Party can be reclaimed by the left.

Lawrence Van Reiss, the vice president of the Bectu broadcasting union, joined the march with other Bectu members and their national union banner.

Lawrence is a Labour Party ward secretary and a delegate to the party’s conference.

He said, “Over the past four or five years we have found a complete disillusionment in the Labour Party constituencies as Blair has run the party almost as a personality cult.

“We need to inject more socialist policies back into the mainstream political debate. We need to get back to some proper policies. For example, we need to repeal the anti-trade union legislation that the Tories brought in.”

Lynne Korniak, a national official of Bectu, agreed - even though she is not in the Labour Party herself.

She said, “I want to see a change in our foreign policy from one of aggression to one of cooperation and support for developing countries.

“I think that there needs to be a taking back of the Labour Party - a party that trade unions built and developed. We need it to develop socialist policies again and not populist policies.”

Apart from war, the future of the health service is seen by many as the key issue facing people in Britain.

Issues

Jane Lee, a health worker, said that she is supporting left wing Labour MP John McDonnell in his campaign for the leadership because he is raising these issues.

“A lot of people feel that they don’t have any power,” she said. “After all, the government turned their back on the millions who marched against war.

“Although I am not in the Labour Party, I am backing John McDonnell’s campaign because he is anti-war and anti-privatisation.”

Some in the Labour Party are less convinced that Labour can be reclaimed.

James Grant, a member of London fire brigade Unison, came on the peace train with a union delegation. He describes himself as a disillusioned Labour Party member.

He said, “I think Blair’s domestic policies are disgusting - they favour the elite. I think Gordon Brown will take over after Blair, but unfortunately I think he will be even worse.”

James said that he used to think that Labour could be reclaimed. He said, “I would like to see the real left taking over the Labour Party again, but I can’t see it happening now.”

Many activists have drawn the conclusion that we need to keep building the movement from below.

Paul Okojie, the equalities officer for the UCU lecturers’ union at Manchester Metropolitan University, said, “I think Blair has become marginal to the events of history.

“What is important is the solidarity of ordinary people to put pressure on the system, not just on Blair himself.

“The key is the people, not the politicians. We should not get sidetracked by the politics of the Labour Party.”

The anti-war movement has brought people together in unprecedented numbers and diversity.

It has brought many people into political activity for the first time. However, the question of a political alternative to Labour still remains.

Alistair Wingate, a member of Respect in Birmingham, said, “I think we can build on the strengths of the anti-war movement, but we also need a form of representation for working people - to bring together issues of war, privatisation, global warming and inequality. That is why I joined Respect.

Debates

“It is brilliant to see so many people in the Labour Party speaking out against the war, but I don’t think that Labour can be reclaimed.”

One place where these crucial debates about the future of the left will take place is at the Organising for Fighting Unions conference in November.

Linda Wiles, the RMT rail union branch secretary at Transport for London, said that her branch is supporting the conference.

She said, “We are on the demonstration to stand united with other people. Blair has become a puppet of George Bush.

“It is not Blair on his own. It is about the policies of the Labour Party.

“The RMT supports specific Labour candidates who have said they support RMT policies, such as John McDonnell.

“We will back anyone who is against war, closing hospitals or schools and the privatisation of London Underground.

“My branch is sending five women as delegates to the Organising for Fighting Unions conference. This is a chance to educate as many people as possible.

“We are in a long running battle. We need a game plan to go forward.”

Maggie Ball

Maggie Ball


Paul Okojie

Paul Okojie



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Article information

Features
Sat 30 Sep 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2020
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