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Tremors after just a month

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Issue 1756

What we think

Tremors after just a month

ONE MONTH into Blair’s second government and it is all so different from four years ago. In July 1997 New Labour was basking in the afterglow of the crushing defeat inflicted on the hated Tories.

Blair all but ignored the trade unions. And their leaders allowed him to, by refusing to mobilise the discontent beneath the surface. Now the tensions and rows are surfacing even before the new batch of Blairite cabinet ministers have settled in.

Trade union leaders question the government’s whole philosophy of privatisation and are then invited to Downing Street. Media commentators talk of a government showing all the signs of wear and tear, with divisions inside and pressure outside, even though it claims to have been elected with a fresh mandate.

Even backbench Labour MPs are uneasy. Feeling against the government is greatest among the 400,000 or so reps, stewards, branch officers and activists who make up the core of the labour movement.

Bill Morris, head of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), tried to keep a lid on the anger at the union’s conference this week. Yet an important section of delegates from the country’s second biggest union slammed the whole direction of the government.

Rod Finlayson from Ford Dagenham said, “We have to make it clear we think this is a mad Thatcherite situation by what is supposed to be a Labour government.” Another delegate, Roy Rix, said, “The real problem is that we’ve just re-elected a Labour government which is carrying out policies in total opposition to what trade union members want, to what people who use services want, and to what most people in the country want.”

Blair wants to win the union leaders onside and get them to discipline their members. Yet he is determined to push ahead with Tory policies masquerading as “reform”. The growing rank and file network among postal workers, who are set for a showdown with their bosses and New Labour, is an example for everyone to follow. Postal workers are putting pressure on their union leaders to resist, and preparing to act should they refuse.

The bitterness at the system Blair embraces is also fuelling opposition to the range of horrors capitalism brings-murderous Third World debt, a renewed arms race, and rule by the multinationals.

The growing resistance in every one of these areas needs to be strengthened. Even if we put aside the speculation of a looming economic crisis, it is already apparent that New Labour’s historic second term in government is not going to be like its first.

More than rage needed

THE unprecedented debate in the trade unions over whether to hand over millions of pounds to New Labour is another sign of the mounting problems Blair faces. As Socialist Worker went to press it looked as though the leaders of the TGWU union had manoeuvred to stop discussion of the union’s political fund at its conference.

But the debate will not go away. Activists in every union affiliated to the Labour Party are demanding that it does not automatically get all the money from unions’ political funds. It is not a question of retreating into narrow trade unionism and refusing to take a political stand.

It is about allowing union money to back socialist candidates and campaigns challenging New Labour. That is what delegates at the Fire Brigades Union conference voted for in May. Socialist meetings since the election continue to attract an audience much wider than conceivable a few months ago.

The union debates over the political fund show more than rage against New Labour.

They show that layers of people who have traditionally looked to the Labour Party now want an alternative. The Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party can not only reach out to the thousands who voted for them, but to the people who voted Labour with a heavy heart or didn’t vote at all.

In the coming weeks and months socialists need to throw themselves into working alongside others to:

  • Campaign against privatisation.
  • Back anti-capitalist demonstrations like the one in Genoa in two weeks time.
  • Build rank and file networks in the unions.
  • Build a united anti-Nazi movement in places like Oldham and Burnley.

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