The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 15th September 2006

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by Daphne Liddle

Minister Tony Blair has never had an easy relationship with Britain’s organised working class – the trade union movement. He comes from a middle class Tory family and has never grasped the socialist vision of giving real power to workers.

 Control freak Blair has always been afraid of them and prefers to patronise workers from a safe distance.
 And in his final speech to the TUC annual conference in Brighton last Tuesday, without a barrier of spin doctors to protect him, he showed his real feelings when flustered by some serious heckling and a protest walkout by members of the RMT union.

 He expressed his contempt for trade union and Labour Party internal democracy: “Government is a hard, difficult business, but it is a darned sight better than wasting our time passing resolutions that no one ever listens to and people never even think about. That is the brutal truth,” he said.

 In other words he never listens to debate or resolutions or considers such things worthy of thinking about. To him, the only thing that matters is power, no matter what the compromises on principle that have to be made to secure it. But of course that is not power at all, when you surrender your moral compass to people like George Bush and Rupert Murdoch – the people with real power in the western world. The willing puppet has no real power at all.

 In the late 1990s, not long after he came to power, Blair complained about “the scars on my back” from fighting trade union opposition to the Tory privatisation policies he was implementing. He made no secret then of his hatred for the unions. In those days it was beneath him to attend TUC conference. Nowadays he cannot get away with that – there has been some shift in power.

 Last Tuesday he began by casting about for some positive common ground with the delegates in front of him and spoke about joint initiatives for training young workers.

 He asked them to remember a list of Labour achievements since he was elected in 1997. But the trade union activists had memories of the Liverpool docks dispute, Magnet, Gate Gourmet, Friction Dynamex and of workers handicapped by Tory anti trade union laws still in place.

 They remembered Britain’s disappearing manufacturing industry: Rover, Corus Steel, Jaguar and many more – British workers sacked by multinational companies because they have least protection from employment laws.

 They remembered the theft of their occupational pensions they have paid into for decades – only to disappear when stocks and shares fall. But the pensions were not restored when the stocks and shares recovered.

 They remembered the thousands of jobs transferred from the public sector to the public sector – and the cuts that result from public funding disappearing into private PFI pockets.

 But what they remembered most was the disastrous illegal invasion of Iraq. The conference chamber was full of placards telling Blair it was time for the troops to leave Iraq and time for him to go.

 It was while he was being barracked about Iraq that Blair lost his cool and told the conference that British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting to defend fragile democracies there. He had completely forgotten about the spurious weapons of mass destruction. And if the continuing chaos and bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan are Blair’s idea of democracy, it was not a delusion shared by the TUC delegates.

 Blair also managed to upset the City by leaking the latest unemployment figures in advance – this could have upset the stock market. He wanted to boast that unemployment is going down and told the conference that the numbers signing on for benefit have decreased by 3,900 to 950,000 in August.

 But even that was misleading. Not everyone out of a job is eligible to sign on. The full official rate of unemployment is actually up by 93,000 and is now at 1.7 million, the highest figure since 2000.

 Commenting on Blair’s speech, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “He has never been that comfortable at congress and it really showed today. His heart was not in it.”

 GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: “He left the stage without a chance of being nominated for an Oscar.”

 Later that evening Gordon Brown fared a little better with a speech at the TUC general council’s annual dinner. One union leader reported that “he made everyone feel good about themselves”.

 But Brown refused to budge on New Labour’s plans to privatise everything he can when – and if – he succeeds Blair. This is all the more reason for trade union activists to back John McDonnell’s challenge to Brown in a coming leadership challenge.


Where the real power lies

CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown is moving into the flat at Number Ten Downing Street with his expanding family – apparently because he has been advised by security officials that this will make it easier for them to protect him and his family.

 The reality is that behind the doors of Number Ten and Number Eleven is just one long building providing accommodation for the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and offices, entertaining rooms and so on. Nevertheless the symbolism of the move has been noted by the press and we are told that Cherie Blair was deeply alarmed to be told that new curtains had arrived – chosen by the Browns.

 It is also a cause of deep unease within the Labour Party rank and file and the trade unions because it suggests that the coming handover of power from Blair to Brown – whenever it happens – is a foregone conclusion and that any challenges will be mere cosmetic exercises. The Labour leaders are acting as though they own the Government of this country and nobody else’s opinion counts.

 It rankles all the more because it betrays an important point about this bourgeois “democracy” that we live in – the democracy bit is something of a cosmetic sham. Big business – the capitalist system – does own the state, which it created to defend its own interests. It also owns Blair and Brown and most of the Cabinet.

 Whoever we elect to sit on the front benches in the Palace of Westminster will carry out the same policies because the ruling class, who have the real power in this country and the western world, tell them what to do. Blair does what George Bush tells him to and right now Bush is telling him to stay put until after the Congressional elections in America.

 The trade unions created the Labour Party to give the working class a voice in Parliament to counteract that of the capitalist ruling class in the Liberal and Tory parties.

 But however many Labour MPs sit in Parliament they can never enact real socialism. Parliament has no power over the bourgeois state or global capitalism. Nevertheless in the past Labour has introduced real reforms that have benefited the working class: state welfare, council house building programmes, the NHS, trade union rights and pension improvements.

 But these have only happened when the working class organisations outside Parliament have been strong. Just after the Second World War, thousands of workers had just been demobbed after taking part in the defeat of Hitler’s armies. They were strong and confident. In the 1970s the trade unions were strong and ready to strike to defend and improve living standards.

 This is where true working class power lies. What happens in Parliament is simply a reflection of class struggles and strengths and weaknesses outside, in the workplaces and communities.

 The current Labour government is serving the interests of the bourgeois ruling class because the trade union movement is weakened by Tory anti-union laws – and internationally by the failure of Soviet socialism. Such a government, under Blair, Brown, Johnson or any other lackey of the ruling class is not going to give the working class and the unions any favours. It is no good waiting for that to happen. We must take what they refuse to give.

 This means being prepared to break the anti-union laws in order to exert the real power of the working class. And a united labour movement strong enough to force real working class reforms from Westminster is on the way to being strong enough to do away with the whole bourgeois state and establishing a worker’s state.

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