The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 3rd October 2003

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Lead

UNION CHALLENGE TO BLAIR

by Daphne Liddle

TONY BLAIR and the Labour leadership met the progressive trade unionists for the long-awaited head-on clash in Bournemouth last week over a list of controversial issues: Iraq, foundation hospitals, top-up fees and workers’ rights.

The outcome has, so far, been mixed. Chancellor Gordon Brown on Monday made a much more traditional Labour speech than has been heard from a “New Labour” leader in a long while.

 “Have confidence,” he said, “that Labour values are the values of the British people. This Labour Party – best when we are boldest, best when we are united, best when we are Labour.”

 He did not use the term “New Labour” – but nor did he mention socialism. It was one of those very clever opportunist speeches that allows optimists to read into it whatever they most want to hear.

 And many press analysts read into it a slight subtle distancing of himself from Blair’s biggest mistakes.

 But he went on to confirm the current economic policies of more and more private sector involvement in the public sector – fundamentally he is no different to Blair.

 On Tuesday Blair made his own speech – a desperate rabble-rousing effort to save his career. He listed all his own achievements, insisted he had nothing to apologise for and that he did not have “a reverse gear”.

 This is very reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s “I’m no for turning” speech made shortly before her downfall. As one newspaper pointed out, a reverse gear can be very useful if you are on the edge of a cliff.

 Blair claimed he was ready to listen to his critics – but would carry on regardless anyway.

 Kevin Curran, general secretary of the GMB general union commented: “Tony Blair’s speech was heavy on rhetoric and dramatics but light on substance. He restated the Government’s achievements and gave the Tories a thoroughly entertaining bashing.

 “But GMB members will be disappointed that the Prime Minister failed to address their concerns about PFI, pensions, employment rights, foundation hospitals and manufacturing.

 “It was not a speech to energise Labour’s heartland supporters. It was a missed opportunity to set out the radical third term manifesto we need to move forward.

 “The Prime Minister made clear that he is a leader who won’t reverse. We’re not worried about him going back – we’re worried about where he’s going. Labour supporters and GMB members will think he would do better to change direction instead.”

 What was distressing was the reaction to the speech of many in the audience, listening with wide grins and wider eyes and a kind of sycophantic worship once seen only in the eyes of teenage Beatles’ fans. Clearly the Labour Party behind-the-scenes machine had been at work to ensure the maximum number of Blairite groupies/delegates on the floor.

 Nevertheless the big voting power lay with the unions and this ensured a resounding defeat for Blair’s flagship foundation hospitals policy on the Wednesday.

 Health Secretary John Reid made it clear that the Government would press ahead with the policy in any case. Nevertheless the defeat was an embarrassment for Blair.
 
two-tier

The motion had been tabled by giant public sector union Unison and was passed on a show of hands. The union argued that the creation of foundation hospitals – with the freedom to control their own budgets and enter into commercial enterprises – would lead to a two-tier health service.

 The better-financed hospitals would attract the best staff, leaving other hospitals to deteriorate.

Throughout the week, a behind-the-scenes battle has been waged to allow an emergency motion submitted by the RMT transport union on Iraq and Blair’s decision to support Bush’s invasion of that country.

 On Monday morning the conference arrangements committee had ruled it off the agenda. By Monday evening, under strong pressure from the unions, that decision was being reconsidered.

 By Wednesday it was off the agenda again. Delegates were told they could discuss Iraq as part of a wide-ranging general discussion on foreign affairs – but there would be no vote and another embarrassing rejection of Government policy avoided.

 This gag made a mockery of Blair’s promises to listen more to the concerns of the rank and file members. The conference arrangements committee also refused to allow any vote on university top-up fees, where once again, the Government line would have faced certain defeat.

no justification

 The RMT resolution had said that the war on Iraq had no justification and that British troops should be withdrawn. TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley, who had called for Blair’s resignation on the issue, backed this.

 Even though there was no vote, the debate on Iraq was very heated, with a clear majority against the Government position. Alice Mahon MP told the conference: “We have been lied to” about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.

 Mick Hogg of the RMT said that the country had been misled by “a Government relying on sexed-up and dodgy dossiers”.

 NEC member Jimmy Elsby said: “The Government has created a wasteland and called it peace”.

 This conference showed that the opportunist right within the Labour Party is still very strong but the left wing is now strong enough to make a real challenge to it, on the conference floor and behind the scenes.

 The battles have been epic because the two sides are both powerful. This is considerable progress over other Labour conferences in the last decade or so.

 Blair may be sounding more like Thatcher every day but the unions are now very different from when she was in power. And that is real progress for the working class.

 Thatcher never had to face opposition from the unions at party conferences.

 There are more giant battles ahead and no guarantees of the outcome – except that if we don’t fight we can’t win – and that Blair’s troubles are not going to disappear, they are going to multiply. 

 *************
Editorial

One way and one road

TONY Blair’s appeal at Labour Party conference was full of self-praise and self-justification. No turning back on foundation hospitals or tuition fees. No remorse over Iraq. Blair’s “Third Way” has now become the “only way”.

Blair claimed he “respected his critics”. This is from the Labour leader who has led the witch-hunt to drive George Galloway out of the party for daring to condemn the Anglo-American war. This is from the man who now boasts that he can “only go one way. I’ve not got a reverse gear”.

The manipulation of the agenda to exclude Iraq, the stormy applause and the standing ovation for Blair show how strong the grip of the right wing is in the Labour Party today and how far the left has to go to challenge it.
 
The Labour Party is, and always has been, a reformist social democratic party originally formed to provide political representation for the trade union movement. The unions still provide most of Labour’s finance and most of its electoral support comes from organised labour. The battle against Blair & Co begins and ends there.

Now some say - why bother with Labour at all? The various revisionist, Trotskyite and left-social democratic bands may differ over policies and personalities. But they all agree on one thing — the need to build a new electoral bloc to challenge and replace Labour in Parliament.  They point to Blair’s sinking ratings in the opinion polls and Labour’s crashing defeat at Brent East. What they don’t say is that their alternative is not even a remote possibility.

But they cannot explain the dismal showing of any of these left parties in parliamentary elections nor can they account for the fact that working people have historically never come to power through bourgeois elections.
 
After the Second World War the Italian and French communist parties were the biggest single blocs in their bourgeois parliaments. But that didn’t lead to socialism and now the French and Italian workers are further from revolutionary change than they were in 1945.

The old Communist Party of Great Britain won two seats in the 1945 elections and achieved next to nothing in Parliament. But its campaigning work in the trade unions did strengthen industrial militancy, helping to wring concessions from employers while defending Labour’s post-war “welfare state” from its detractors for two decades.

In bourgeois elections in imperialist countries, people vote for bourgeois or social democratic parties in the belief that their living standards will improve if one or the other forms a government. Fringe parties are left with what is little more than a protest vote.

This is not because working people are stupid. In fact they are wiser than many of the people who would like to lead them. It is mainly because “reforms” paid out of overseas imperialist plunder have been won in the past. It’s because most workers see no alternative to the bourgeois system.

Nobody “votes” for revolution. Revolutions are fought for by working people in times of crisis when the chips are down and the ruling class shows its true nature - class dictatorship. And revolutions can only succeed if there is a revolutionary party at the head of the working class - a  party based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism that can chart the road to revolutionary change and the emancipation of the working class. That’s why the class needs a  communist party. 

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