The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 12th September 2003

TUC 2003 Brighton

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by Caroline Colebrook

TONY WOODLEY, the newly-elected general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, sounded the opening blast of last week’s annual TUC conference in Brighton with a resounding call for Prime Minister Blair to go.

 Woodley declared that workers’ trust in Labour is at an all-time low because of the Iraq war and a catalogue of broken promises. He warned that if Labour didn’t listen then working men and women would see no reason to vote for them.

 He pointed out that Blair has now become an electoral liability for the Labour Party and called for a radical progressive alternative to New Labour.

 “For the first time in our history,” he said, “a very large slice of public opinion finds itself to the left of a Labour government.

 “On a string of issues – from pensions protection and taking railways back into public ownership to curbing fat cat greed and keeping the health service in public hands – this slice amounts to a clear majority of people.”

 He went on to condemn Blair’s support for “George Bush’s endless war programme”

 He accused the Government of spending billions on “an illegal and unacceptable war” in Iraq while failing to end the indignity of means testing or restoring the link between state pensions and earnings.

Blair bottles it

Tony Blair did not address the full TUC conference but he did speak to union leaders at a dinner on Tuesday night. A prepared text was given to the press in advance.

 It was all about “confronting the awkward squad” and telling the unions they were deluded if they believed they could force the Government to the left.

 He had intended to tell the unions that “the idea of a left-wing Labour government as the alternative to a moderate and progressive one is the abiding delusion of 100 years.”

 Yet when Blair came face to face with the union leaders he lost his nerve, cut out large sections, and delivered a very mild speech. Clearly he is not very brave without Alistair Campbell to hold his hand.

 Blair was due to say that if Labour turned away from reforming public services it would be making as big a mistake as when the 1970s Labour Government rejected the sale of council houses.

But union leaders insisted later that Blair had omitted  many of these comments during his speech.

 Several general secretaries of leading unions said Blair’s tone was far less confrontational than expected.

 Mark Serwotka, of the Public and Commercial Services union, said it was “extraordinary” that Blair did not deliver the speech handed out to the media.

 Chancellor Gordon Brown was brave enough to address the conference but if he is hoping to step into Blair’s shoes in the near future, he did himself no favours.

 He ran through a list of achievements of the Labour government and then told the conference here could be “no return to inflationary pay rises, no return to loss making subsidies” and “no retreat from a pro-enterprise pro-industry agenda” – putting himself squarely in the bosses’ camp.
He received a polite but muted 15 seconds of applause. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis commented: “I think Gordon will see himself as a potential Labour leader but to become a Labour leader, he will need the support of the trade unions.”

Union rights

The battle for the restoration of full trade union rights, including secondary action – unions taking industrial action to support other workers in dispute – was high on the TUC agenda.

 The conference voted unanimously in favour of the right to take secondary action and for better protection against the sack for workers who take lawful strike action.

 Speaker after speaker on social legislation complained that workers in Britain have fewer rights than their European counterparts.

 Workers formerly employed by Friction Dynamex in Wales and sacked eight weeks after going on strike addressed the conference to make this point.

 They are involved in Britain’s current longest-running dispute and are still fighting for the restoration of their jobs by picketing the site for over two years.

 A industrial tribunal declared their sacking illegal but the company owner, American Craig Smith, closed it down and re-opened it again under another, very similar name.

 Retiring TGWU general secretary Sir Bill Morris said it was disgraceful that employees could still be sacked for taking industrial action. “If that is not justification for law reform, I don’t know what is,” he said.

 The conference backed a call for a national demonstration on this issue and to defend pension rights, which, as Tony Woodley pointed out, are becoming “the biggest hot potato” for unions.


On Monday conference unanimously baked calls or a national day of action on pensions. Tony Woodley told delegates that £19 billion has been stolen from company pension schemes over the past few years.

 He said: “Ronnie Biggs spent 30 years on the run for stealing pennies compared to what our companies are doing now. Let nobody say they we have a country that cannot afford to meet the commitments of funding pensions.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “We have a pensions crisis. What we are seeing is twilight robbery.”

 He spoke about industrial action over pension rights and said: “There should be a national demonstration along the lines of recent protests held in France, Germany and Italy. We need to show this Government we mean business.

 “The Government’s action on pensions is failing to meet the needs of workers and pensioners, resulting in workers either having to work longer or struggle to exist in old age.”

Combating racists

The Commission for Racial Equality gave its full backing to unions that expel members of racist parties like the British National Party.

 CRE chairperson Trevor Phillips said the CRE would offer to act in partnership with unions such as Aslef and Unison that have taken action against members involved in the BNP.

 The BNP is currently conducting a campaign to get its members to join unions so the can claim compensation when they are thrown out.

 The Prison Officers’ Association says that BNP members are also trying to secure positions of prominence within the public sector professions.

 Union efforts to expel the racists have met with mixed results. Last year Aslef expelled train driver Jay Lee for standing for the BNP in council elections. But an industrial tribunal overturned the expulsion. The union is appealing against the decision.

 Trevor Phillips told the TUC: “We will be prepared to work with and advise an union which takes the view, as I do, that no union branch should be forced to have a racist as a member.

 “If we need to put some legal support behind them, and we think it is a winnable case, we will do so.”

 The Communication Workers’ Union tabled a motion which said that the current rise of the BNP is occurring amid “a negative climate” created by restrictive immigration and asylum legislation, a hysterical media campaign and the growth of Islamaphobia in the aftermath of 11 September.”

 And the motion called for new legislation to make the expulsion of racists easier.
Division on Europe

The only significant area of division at this, the strongest and most positive TUC conference for a generation, was over entry to the euro.

 The ruling general council narrowly avoided defeat on its support for entry after being accused of trying to “bounce” the conference into supporting it.

 There was a division among those who saw euro entry as vital to preserve British manufacturing industry and those who saw it as reducing democracy throughout Europe.

 Sir Bill Morris called for “no rush and no quick fix” in the form of an early referendum. He pointed out that the new harmonised index of consumer prices – replacing the retail price index – “won’t just cut inflation but your members’ pay and conditions”.

 And Jane Carolan, speaking for Unison, said that eurozone economies were no longer run by democratic governments but by the ECB, which based its entire policy on a single inflation target and one-size interest rate, imposing severe fiscal restrictions and causing stagnation and rising unemployment. 


Clutching at Straws

AMERICAN IMPERIALIST warlord George W Bush has sent his foreign minister, Colin Powell, back to the United Nations to try to get European military support for the American occupation of Iraq. Needless to say he’s had a dog-like response from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who almost immediately ordered the despatch of more reinforcements for the British expeditionary force in southern Iraq.

The fact that the Americans are turning to the UN to bale them out is a mark of the growing Iraqi resistance to the Anglo-American occupation. The rising temper of the Iraqi people is reflected in the guerrilla war against the imperialist forces and the Pentagon’s rising casualty figures.

France, Russia and Germany have shown little enthusiasm for the Powell proposals which would legitimise the Anglo-American invasion and enable the occupation army to fly the UN flag while leaving the country under the control of the US governor and his quisling puppet council. They’re playing for higher stakes.

The European powers covet Iraqi oil as much as the Americans and they won’t be appeased with a few crumbs from Bush’s table. They are calling for a speedy transfer of power to an elected Iraqi authority which will then negotiate its future economic and international relations as an independent state. They calculate that an independent Iraq, free to export its vast oil wealth, would have no reason to favour the country that has been the source of all its misery for over a decade. They expect that a free Iraq would show its gratitude in the future by co-operating with European imperialism in the redevelopment of its oil industry.

That may well be the case. But the fundamental issue is not the future of Iraq’s oil.  It’s decolonisation. It’s the question of the Iraqi peoples’ legitimate right to independence.

The Anglo-American invasion was illegal under international law and the occupation has no legitimacy whatsoever. The Iraqi people, under the UN Charter, have the right to independence and the right to choose their own government.

Now is the time

Tony Blair’s personal standing has crashed in the opinion polls.  It’s not surprising given the revelations at the  Hutton inquiry and the still unanswered questions over the “dodgy dossier”. When Labour was returned to office it talked about an “ethical” foreign policy. Now Britain stands virtually isolated in the world following its disastrous partnership with American imperialism’s aggression in Iraq.

It’s all very well for Gordon Brown to tell us about the great achievements of the British economy. But that doesn’t compensate for the rapid decline of the health service, the dismal transport system or the miserable state pensions that working people continue to put up with after seven years of Labour government.

Working people don’t want the Tories back. The latest surveys make that equally clear. But they are sick of the Blair & Co’s pro-business agenda and its culture of privatisation which has all but destroyed the “welfare state”.

This isn’t what the people wanted when they voted in their millions for Labour at the elections. This isn’t what the Labour Party rank-and-file wanted when they worked to see the Tories defeated.

Tony Blair doesn’t lead the Labour Party by divine right. He was elected by the party and the party can force him out.

The clamour for Tony Blair’s resignation has been heard at the TUC. It must now be heard at Labour Party Conference.  

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