‘The Labour Party is more pro-business, pro wealth creation and pro-competition than ever before.’ That was chancellor Gordon Brown’s shocking description last week of what he and Tony Blair have turned the Labour Party into. Brown was trying to reassure big business that the government would continue to look after their interests, despite widespread opposition to New Labour’s embrace of privatisation.
His comments are a slap in the face to every Labour voter and supporter who hoped Brown would push Blair in a more left wing direction. Brown is planning to give massive handouts to business in the budget on Wednesday 17 April. He announced that he is giving big businesses a massive £500 million package of corporate tax cuts in the budget. The bosses’ CBI organisation couldn’t contain its glee.
‘Firms will be delighted with this signal that Gordon Brown is pursuing his pro-enterprise course,’ said CBI deputy chief John Cridland. Brown is also set to give away millions of pounds to small businesses. But while there’s money to be found for City businessmen, big corporations and small firms, workers will get nothing but more privatisation and job cuts.
Sounding just like Margaret Thatcher, Brown told delegates at a TGWU union conference in Leeds last week that they had no alternative but to accept ‘globalisation and opening markets to competition’.
No wonder discontent is brewing from top to bottom of the labour movement. Communication Workers Union leaders announced last week that the union would cut £500,000 of funding to the Labour Party over the next three years, in recognition of the massive discontent its members feel.
The Labour Party’s new general secretary, David Triesman, was forced to say in an interview in the Times, ‘I do find it wounding that income to the party should be cut.’
Labour leaders are also said to be disturbed by moderate John Monks’s plans to leave his job as general secretary of the TUC. Monks announced his intention to leave just weeks after calling Blair ‘bloody stupid’ for his alliance with right wing Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi. Blair and his deputy, John Prescott, faced a round of hostile questions at what was described as their ‘bumpiest’ yet National Executive Committee meeting. Blair was attacked for backing George Bush’s threats to bomb Iraq, and for his alliance with Berlusconi, as well as facing criticism over Post Office privatisation, hunting, and a host of other issues. Blair managed to block discussion of a motion calling for an end to privatisation by 21 votes to seven.
But he was forced to try and pacify trade union opposition by announcing a new deal on the employment of new staff in private companies that take over running public services. This included a new code obliging ‘contractors to offer employment to new staff on fair and reasonable terms, and conditions which are overall broadly comparable to those of transferred employers.’
The ‘code’ would still give bosses leeway to pay new staff less, worsen their pension entitlements, and make them work different hours and shifts. Disgracefully leaders of both the Unison union and the TGWU welcomed the announcement.
But the GMB union quite rightly slammed it as a betrayal of Labour’s previous commitment to protect staff, and said it did not have ‘a snowball’s chance in hell’ of being the basis of a deal.
If there is discontent at Blair and Brown’s free market policies among trade union leaders, then the rank and file are seething. But those at the sharp end-postal workers facing job losses and privatisation, health workers facing being taken over by private firms, teachers facing massive workloads-need more than words.
They need a campaign of strikes and protests to fight and defeat privatisation, and all the other attacks from those who preach about the free market and wreck workers’ lives.
There was a sense of solidarity and hope
Unions should be spreading the action
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Union membership has tripled