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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UNIONS TELL BLAIR TO GO
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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.
To the New Communist Party