BLAIR RENEWS ATTACK ON SERVICES
by Daphne Liddle
PRIME Minister Tony Blair last week threw down the gauntlet to the trade union movement and his own party with a declaration that he intends to press on as fast as possible with his “reforms” (gradual privatisation) of public services.
He is currently enjoying a period of favour with most of the press after the brutal invasion and conquest of Iraq.
He is very pleased with himself over the result and intends to capitalise at home on the fact that, in the international arena, imperialism and capitalist greed are riding high.
He warned: “Now is not the time for a quiet life”, and “It is time to hold firm to the path of radical reform.”
Blair claimed he was holding to the values that underpinned the state welfare of the 1945 Labour government.
But he criticised the centralised “top-down, one-size-fits-all, command and control” approach in favour of one which gives “empowerment” and “choice” to “consumers”.
This implies that sick patients and schoolchildren somehow have the option of browsing around like customers to pick and choose their treatment or education.
The reality is that once public services are taken out of the control of the state – at national or local government level – they are out of the control of democratic, accountable structures.
When the people lose control, who gains it? Those with money of course. Choice is always for those who can afford it and his kind of empowerment is the power of money against the democratic state.
Blair has said that “old Labour die-hards” must move on from a “hopeless defence” of the “post-1945 big state”.
This is the view of the libertarian capitalists, who resent any state controls on their greed or accountability to democratic processes.
Left Labour MP Alan Simpson pointed out: “This is not the spirit that will save the 21st century – it is closer to the spirit of Margaret Thatcher.
At one point Blair included a reference to “engaging with the Labour Party” – implying that he recognises he is not really part of it.
One of the key elements of Blair’s reforms is the creation of elite “foundation” hospitals, self-governing and with freedom to increase funding through commercial ventures. Unions fear these will be in competition with other hospitals, which will deteriorate as resources and staff are attracted to the foundation hospitals.
But already 133 Labour MPs have signed a Commons motion opposing foundation hospitals and critics of this policy include Chancellor Gordon Brown.
The unions are ready for this fight. Kevin Curran, general secretary-elect of the GMB general union said that the private finance initiative was one of the most unpopular policies he had ever come across.
He warned that when profits fall and private contractors for schools and hospitals pull out, Britain will face “the railway industry times twelve”.
Curran continued: “Our next generation would inherit a third-class health service and a third-class education service.
“There’s no way we’re going to concede the principle on those things because they’re fundamental to a civilised society”.
He said the Cabinet is out of touch and: “I think that the Government is full of a number of individuals who – and this is not a criticism – are privileged.
“They have been fortunate enough to have been born into loving families, financially secure with advantageous links to other privileged people in society. They’ve never, ever felt vulnerable in their lives.”
Curran said he thought that Gordon Brown understood the unions better.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the giant public sector union Unison warned that foundation hospitals would be a “Trojan horse”, smuggling private companies into the NHS.
He said it was “nonsense” to suggest that the private finance initiative is the only way to finance improvements in public services.
Blair tried to play down the rift between himself and his clique with the unions and the majority of the Labour party over the war on Iraq – just days after he had admitted that opposition to the war within the Parliamentary party had him close to resignation.
Opposition to the war may have died down in the press but it remains strong in the unions and the whole labour movement.
Kevin Curran described the war as “fundamentally wrong in international law” and “a huge mistake”. He added that if the Government presses on with its public services reform agenda, it will lead to “a very divided society, like the north American model”.
Labour NEC member Mark Seddon said: “Everything set out here can only be called right wing. This seems to be the beginning of the privatisation of everything.”
The opposition to Blair has not gone away, even though he seems to think it has. He is daily becoming more arrogant and more isolated from his own party. He is more than due a rude awakening.
If the vote in the House of Commons just before the attack on Iraq was not quite big enough to topple him, it could well be that the coming vote on foundation hospitals will be. One way or another, sooner or later, he will be out on his ear. We must keep organising and pushing to make that day as soon as possible.
MILLIONS upon millions of working people are celebrating May Day
this week. In the socialist countries the international working class holiday
is marked by holidays and meetings; in the struggling world and in the heart
of imperialism by militant demonstrations led by the organised working class.
We pause to remember the struggle that took place in Chicago in 1886: the fight for the eight-hour working day and the campaign which ended with workers being shot and their leaders hanged on trumped-up charges of conspiracy and murder.
We march under the Red Flag to remember those early American martyrs and the millions who followed down the years in the epic struggles that led to the Great October Revolution in 1917; the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Japanese empire in 1945; the revolutionary wave which established the people’s democracies after the Second World War, Vietnam’s victory and today’s struggles against the brutal hand of capitalism and imperialism all over the world.
On May Day working people unite across the globe to demonstrate the solidarity of the class and to demand an end to exploitation. All the wealth of the imperialist world comes from the masses – the workers in the factories and the peasants in the fields. But what do we get – next to nothing in return. For the vast majority in the Third World it’s barely enough to live for another day of back-breaking toil. In Britain and the other imperialist centres there’s a few more crumbs from the rich man’s table but still only in return for hard labour.
That’s the lot for most people – most but not all. A tiny fraction live different lives. Who are these people?
They are the rich. They are the exploiters – the industrialists, the bankers and the big land-owners. They never have to worry about whether there’s a roof over their heads or whether they can afford to see the doctor. They have the best that money can buy and they live in palaces and mansions. This is what capitalism is all about. It’s their economic system which robs working people every day to ensure that the rich can live the life of Roman Emperors while we struggle to make ends meet.
When the going’s good they can be generous. They give to charity or agree to disgorge a tiny fraction of their vast profits to meet the demands of organised labour to keep their enterprises running. But a much greater slice of their loot is spent on the forces of repression – the nuclear bombs, the monstrous armies, police and intelligence officers working round the clock to keep the workers in their place.
These are the people who enslaved most of the world in the 19th century. These are the people who sacrificed millions of lives in the First World War – a war that only ended because of the Russian Revolution. These are the people who created fascism leading to a Second World War whose horrors only ended through the valour of the Red Army.
Yet they think their system will last forever. They believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union marks the “end of history”. The “new world order” that Bush and Blair talk about is their system on a global scale. This is their future, this is where their “history ends”. We will prove them wrong.
Wherever there is oppression there is always resistance. We saw it in the struggles which brought down the old colonial empires. We saw it in China, Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. We saw it in Ireland. We see it in Palestine. We see it in Iraq today – down but not cowed and certainly not conquered. And we see it here in Britain amongst the millions who took to the streets to demonstrate their loathing of imperialist war.
The bosses fear socialism and with good reason because it is the only alternative to capitalism and it is the inevitable alternative to their system of injustice, exploitation and oppression. Socialism is the reality of millions of working people in Asia and the Caribbean. It will be ours some day. This is the real meaning of May Day.
“There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today”
Last words of August Spies, one of the four Chicago labour leaders executed by the American ruling class in 1887.
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