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Give a focus to millions

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Issue 1765

What we think

Fightback, not Big Mac

Give a focus to millions

NEW LABOUR’S philosophy is summed up by burger firms and businessmen. Last week the party got McDonald’s to sponsor a top conference dinner with Tony Blair for 15,000. Then this week it produced an education white paper centred on private firms grabbing greater control of schools. Ministers also allowed Royal Mail and Parcelforce to put their entire fleet of 40,000 vehicles up for sale, a clear privatisation move.

McLabour means proudly working with the sleaziest, shadiest, most destructive, most hated corporations in the world-from arms manufacturers like BAe to fast food giants. An opinion poll last weekend showed that even half of those who voted Conservative at the general election want health and education to be provided entirely or mainly by the public sector.

Some ministers are privately telling union leaders they are not really fanatical about privatisation. The secretary for transport and local government Stephen Byers has admitted, “The debate about the private sector in public services could have been handled better.”

Health secretary Alan Milburn claims that there would only be a very limited increase in the role of private firms in the NHS.

Calls for mass protest

Tony Blair is worried he will get a bad reception when he addresses the TUC conference on Tuesday.

There are motions calling for mass protests against privatisation backed by 19 unions including UNISON, the TGWU and the GMB. Another widely supported motion from the NUT opposes the education white paper. A national protest against privatisation, that unions supported and campaigned for, would be a boost to everyone battling against the sell offs. It would encourage the fight over London Underground, the Post Office, the NHS and schools.

But there are signs that the union leaders are already softening their stance, looking for a getout that could mean cobbling together a deal with Blair. The motion to the TUC concedes that reform of the public services may “occasionally mean there is a role for the private sector”.

It will be a disgrace if union leaders continue to back off, if they throw away a chance to give a focus to the millions who are sickened by the thought of McLabour. This is a key moment, one of the defining battles of New Labour’s second term.

Press ahead to halt privatisation

Veteran Labour supporter Ian Aitken wrote in Tribune last week, “I hope the TUC is not bought off by Blair’s fake ‘apology’ over the introduction of private management into the public services. I hope they press ahead with the campaign to halt the tide of forthcoming PFIs and PPPs. Make no mistake, this is the big one. If it is lost, the very nature of the Labour Party as the party of the welfare state will have been changed forever.”

Many people inside and outside the Labour Party will agree with Ian Aitken’s words.

Everyone to Brighton

Everyone can play a role in the battle against privatisation. Some groups of workers are in the frontline. They must pressure their unions to fight, and organise to fight themselves if the leaders won’t do it. We can all build the protest at Labour’s conference on 30 September.

On the same day that people will be fighting the World Bank and the IMF in Washington, we can be on the streets demanding public services not private profit, and showing opposition to Blair’s McLabour.

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