The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 3rd October 2003
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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
“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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
To the New Communist