Tony Blair jetted back from holiday this week. Unabashed by his growing unpopularity, the New Labour spin factory was working overtime announcing that his return heralded a super-Blairite agenda for the coming year.
The most explosive issue is the “reform” of pensions. That means millions of us being told we must work longer or accept a smaller pension. The Financial Times reports, “Ministers are determined to raise the normal retirement age for all public sector workers from 60 to 65.”
And not content with further undermining the welfare state by pushing through foundation hospitals and city academies, cabinet minister John Hutton has warned that the markets and consumer choice must prevail in public services.
Don’t forget the usual scapegoats either. Further anti-terror laws as well as anti-social behaviour measures are being prepared.
Yet the reality is that Blair’s enthusiastic support is narrowing to a coterie of his camp followers. It is unlikely Labour MPs will find the bottle to stand up to him in any number. But the trade unions can force Blair to back off—if they put their members before loyalty to New Labour.
The Gate Gourmet dispute has had an impact way beyond its size. Union leaders Bob Crow and Tony Woodley have proposed a campaign to lift the legal ban on workers taking solidarity action like that which closed Heathrow.
It is a welcome step forward and one which should be built on. Meanwhile union leaders are discussing a strategy to stop an increase in the pension age in the public sector.
The week after next the TUC meets in Brighton. The unions can trail along behind New Labour, or they can assert themselves.
This after all is a government which blocked European legislation which would have prevented employers like Gate Gourmet from sacking their workforce and replacing them with lower paid agency staff.
An alliance of the anti-war movement and growing shopfloor resistance can hasten Blair’s departure. Central to that are a fightback from the unions and the biggest possible turnout on the 24 September Stop the War demonstration.
The dispute over the imports of Chinese textiles highlights the ruthless priorities of the world’s governments and businesses.
Whatever their differences, they all want to see a race to the bottom where poor countries compete to see who can serve up the cheapest, most docile workforce. If they don’t get it now, they will urge on the World Trade Organisation to enforce “free trade” in textiles.
European Union commissioner Peter Mandelson is entirely in favour of workers cutting each other’s throats to benefit bosses. He helped create an overtly neo-liberal Labour government, now he wants an overtly neo-liberal EU.
This row is not about how much you will pay for a T-shirt in Primark. It’s about how many lives get wrecked because production is left to the market and competition.