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Bringing it back home

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Issue 1758

what we think

Bringing it back home

“PUBLIC SECTOR workers were scared they were facing backdoor privatisation. Today’s speech has put paid to that threat. We are not looking at backdoor privatisation, but facing the prospect of ministers kicking down the front door and hurling privatisation onto the mat in front of us.”

So said John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, on Monday. He was commenting on the speech Tony Blair made about “reform” of public services. Blair was preparing for his love-in with George Bush, and the G8 meeting with the other leaders of major industrial countries in Genoa. They are demanding that the whole world rushes down the neo-liberal path pioneered by Thatcher.

Their meeting is taking place against the background of enormous protests. Blair and the others will try and dismiss the protesters as an “unrepresentative minority”.

Yet one of the main slogans of the demonstrators is “Our world is not for sale”, reflecting what millions of people in Britain think about Blair’s privatisation “reforms”.

An opinion poll last week showed that just one in ten people believe more private sector involvement will improve public services. That’s fewer than supported Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax.

Their feelings are summed up by the GMB union’s adverts in the newspapers this week. They show a nurse and a businessman, and ask, “Who do you trust to run public services?”

Even normally “loyal” Labour MPs are deeply uneasy about the privatisation policy. That is what lay behind their parliamentary “mutiny” over the chairing of parliamentary committees.

This was not just a matter of internal parliamentary procedure. Gwyneth Dunwoody MP, one of the committee chairs who Blair wanted to sack, is bitterly opposed to rail privatisation. The MPs voted to reinstate her as a signal that they are fed up as being used as poodles for unpopular, neo-liberal, market-driven policies.

Blair thinks he can simply ignore such signals. He expects MPs to grumble occasionally but do no more. And he knows from experience that union leaders like Edmonds very rarely turn words into deeds.

But just as an upswell of revolt from below sank Thatcher’s poll tax, so too can it sink Blair’s privatisation schemes.

Building such a revolt means taking the spirit of Seattle and Genoa into every hospital, every health centre, every school and every council estate. It means fighting every sell off, pressuring the union leaders to turn words into action, and organising protests and strikes.

New Labour’s party conference is in Brighton in ten weeks time. Blair would like it to be a celebration of his second term.

But already it looks much more like being a focus for all the discontents people feel as thousands demonstrate against his privatisation schemes. Another world IS possible. The fight starts here and now.

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