‘Tony Blair talks about public sector workers putting scars on his back, and then calls us wreckers. I think public sector workers should be a boil on Tony Blair’s nose.’ Julie Pih, a Rochdale homecare worker, is furious with the government, especially after Blair’s ‘wreckers’ insult. She is one among millions. Julie was one of the delegates who expressed their anger at last week’s Unison women’s conference.
For the media this anger is all down to ‘hard left union barons’, as the Daily Mail calls them, who head up the public sector unions. But the mood runs far deeper among workers. ‘As a trade unionist and Labour Party activist I was affronted when Tony Blair called us wreckers,’ says Sue Tracey, another delegate last weekend. ‘A lot of women trade unionists helped put the Labour Party back in power. We have done everything we can to keep public services alive. You, Mr Blair, seem to believe partnership with private companies will help us. I think partnership is a woolly word. We know some are made in hell. They have failed, from PFI in public services to Railtrack. The vulnerable who use services should not be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold. And neither should public sector workers.’
‘I say to the government, ‘Get on with investment. Stop creeping privatisation. You have no mandate to privatise’,’ says Janice Knot. Similar comments can be heard in factories, offices, canteens and pubs across Britain. The deep feeling they express will remain, whether or not the union leaderships call off the current round of disputes.
It is an echo of the discontent among ordinary people that exploded under two previous Labour governments. In the 1960s and the late 1970s Labour had similarly been in government for five years when people’s disillusion and bitterness exploded into strikes and protests. Unfortunately both times the anger did not translate into a coherent challenge to the government from the left.
The struggles were fragmented and had no clear focus. This meant the Tories were able to take advantage of the disillusion with the Labour government. The task is to focus the current bitterness. That means raising solidarity for groups of workers who take strike action. This can widen support for the strikes and encourage other workers to take up their own battles.
It also means campaigning against New Labour’s relentless drive for privatisation. Building that resistance to New Labour can create an opportunity to provide a socialist focus for the disillusion people feel with the government.
Lock ’em up-ask questions later. That’s the attitude of the US and British governments in George Bush’s ‘war on terror’. And the case of Algerian pilot Lotfi Raissi shows it. He was arrested on 21 September and jailed in Belmarsh prison, south London, because the US government claimed he was a ‘terror suspect’.
He was released this week, after US officials admitted they had no evidence to extradite him. We now know that the reasons they had for holding him include failing to declare ‘an old tennis injury’ when applying for a pilot’s licence. He was locked up for five months and held up as a key link in an international terror network.
Nine Asians were held a few weeks ago in Leicester under terror legislation, and six were held in the north east of England. Not one has been charged with terrorism. Over 1,000 people in the US have suffered a similar fate.
Nearly 3,000 people joined a magnificent march through Hounslow, west London, on Saturday of last week. Parents, teachers and nursery nurses came together to stop cuts which would wreck the education of the youngest school children.
‘I’ve been a nursery nurse for 16 years,’ Parveen Chaggar told Socialist Worker. ‘Our work is crucial to children’s early years education. Now threatened council cuts will mean sacking nursery nurses and possibly other staff. We shouldn’t have to be on the streets today. Didn’t Tony Blair talk about ‘education, education, education’?’
Every primary school in New Labour run Hounslow sent big delegations to the march, which was built from the grassroots up. Passing cars and buses tooted in support, drowning out the planes above on the Heathrow flight path. Hounslow has already been hit by job losses at the airport. That has fuelled the mood to resist the attacks.
A lobby of the council took place this Tuesday. Councillors are to agree the final budget in three weeks time. ‘We are absolutely determined to stop these cuts,’ said Linda Mason from Cardinal Road School.
‘This fantastic demonstration is something the councillors ignore at their peril.’
Conference for all trade unionists
Saturday 16 March, 11am-4pm, Camden Centre, Bidborough Street, London WC1 (near King’s Cross station/tube)
Register with the Socialist Alliance-phone 020 7791 3138, go to www.socialistalliance.net or write to Socialist Alliance, Wickham House, 10 Cleveland Way, London E1 4TR