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Sackings, privatisation no let up from their side

This article is over 22 years, 9 months old
'IT HAS been suggested that it is appropriate to hold back our anti-privatisation campaigning for the forseeable future, in the wake of events in the US. Such a move might make sense if the government itself was suspending the privatisation drive, but it is clearly doing no such thing.
Issue 1768

‘IT HAS been suggested that it is appropriate to hold back our anti-privatisation campaigning for the forseeable future, in the wake of events in the US. Such a move might make sense if the government itself was suspending the privatisation drive, but it is clearly doing no such thing.

Only last week it was announced that the adverts seeking bids from contractors for the biggest single NHS Private Finance Initiative scheme in the country-the Bart’s and the London NHS Trust development-are about to be placed in trade journals.

And on Tuesday the government, in a statement endorsed by no less than five ministers, announced that it was laying the groundwork for the wholesale privatisation of services in Hackney, as part of a drive to balance the council’s books.

In the light of this, there can be no justification for the trade unions calling a halt to the anti-privatisation campaign. With the government showing its clear intent to press ahead with its public services agenda, it would be wrong for the trade unions to back away from the issue at the Labour Party conference in a week’s time.

We can express our sympathy and support, not least for the hundreds of cleaners, builders and emergency service workers who died in the attacks, without losing momentum for a campaign whose success or failure will have lasting implications for the whole country.

Unions owe it to their members to keep the pressure on a government which has barely paused for breath in its pursuit of privatisation.’
Geoff Martin, London regional convenor UNISON

‘THE BRITISH people expect that we show some unity, rise above party politics.’ That was the message from new Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith in parliament last week.

He has his own reasons for avoiding debate on ‘normal politics’-to cover up the way he has stuffed his shadow cabinet with the lunatic right wing fringe of his party. But the same sentiment has been echoed across the political spectrum ever since Tony Blair refused to make his speech at the TUC conference. That refusal avoided debate on his privatisation plans.

Blair did, however, insist on handing copies of his planned speech out to delegates, with its message that there would be no let up in the government’s drive to hand public services to private business. The day afterwards TUC leaders went along with the ‘drop politics’ notion by calling off their conference.

Last week home secretary David Blunkett was given a free hand to decide whether the New Labour conference went ahead this weekend, and if it did proceed then to stage manage debates to try and avoid clashes over government policies. And leaders of the GMB union also called off the union’s campaign against privatisation last week.

A GMB spokesperson said it was ‘not the moment to air serious disagreements with the government’. But behind all this talk of ‘unity’ and ‘rising above politics’, it is business as usual for some of the most politically motivated people in the country-those who head giant firms. These bosses are cynically using the devastation in the US and the talk of war to ram through massive attacks on working people.

The mass sackings announced by airline bosses in the US and Britain have hit the headlines. As we argue on these pages, this is a cynical assault that was already planned before the devastation in the US. But the attacks are much wider than the airline industry. There have been a huge round of redundancies over the last month-at GEC Marconi, Motorola, BAe, Compaq and HP, to name just a few.

Not one single job cut has been put on ice because of the crisis. And many more job cuts are now on the way. Just one example last week illustrates how talk of ‘pulling together’ means nothing to bosses whose only concern is profit.

Tinsley, one of the biggest employers in Lincolnshire, sacked 850 workers. The company supplies food to supermarket giants Safeway and Marks & Spencer. Workers left the plant in tears, their futures ruined.

Just the week before the workers had been promised their jobs were safe. The government too is pushing ahead with its assault on public services and the workers who provide them. Just days after the horror in the US, Tony Blair’s government set up a new special unit to drive through privatisation in the NHS.

The unit will push through the building of 29 ‘fast track’ surgical ‘factories’, which will be built and run by private companies. As the Financial Times put it, ‘The creation of the unit shows the government’s determination to press ahead with greater involvement of the private sector in delivering NHS care.’

The government also launched a major new assault in the Post Office last week. It gave the go-ahead to private firm Hays to deliver mail in the business districts of London, Edinburgh and Manchester. Even worse, it has announced it is ready to license a scab service to try to beat postal strikes. Its plans amount to gearing up for a Wapping-style confrontation with postal workers, like that unleashed on print unions by Rupert Murdoch at his east London plant during Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s.

Nor are the continuing attacks we face confined to issues like jobs and privatisation. David Blunkett visited Dover last week to boast of the government’s harsh new measures against refugees. He also plans to lock up 3,000 more refugees. Many of those who will be hit hardest by the crackdown are those fleeing Afghanistan.

We must not let either the bosses or Blair’s government get away with using the fog of war to push through attacks which otherwise would have caused an outcry. Rather than call a halt to our struggles, we need to fight against every job cut, every attack on pay and conditions, every privatisation and every attack on refugees.

The government will also hope that the crisis will blunt the protest planned this Sunday at Labour’s Brighton conference. In the remaining days everyone should redouble their efforts to ensure that the protest is as angry and effective as possible. $ GMB UNION leader John Edmonds posed for publicity shots at the TUC conference with refuse workers in Brighton who had a successful occupation against private firm Sita. Yet those same refuse workers now face a new privatisation threat and are set to be sold off to private firm Serviceteam. These workers need action now more than ever. That makes it even more disgraceful that GMB leaders have called off the union’s campaign against privatisation.

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