REFRESHED by his recent holiday in trendy Tuscany, the leader of the "new", "modernised" Labour Party is raring to go. Nothing, it seems, is beyond the abilities of Tony Blair who believes he can now get to work "modernising" everything from the monarchy to the trade unions. Even Britain itself is included in Blair's agenda for change.
We are supposed to picture these institutions, and ultimately the whole country, benefiting from the Blairite new broom sweeping out all that is old fashioned and stuffy and replacing it with all that is bright and stylish -- a bit like the MEA advert telling us to chuck out our chintz today.
Well, that's the image. The substance is very different.. Beneath the surface of right wing Labour's fashion makeovers lies a far more serious agenda, one which suits the bosses and assists big business and the transnational corporations.
We have already seen that "modernisation" of the Labour Party meant more than just bringing in telephone canvassing, credit card membership and wearing the right clothes for television interviews.
The real changes were aimed at reducing the influence of trade unionists and rank and file members and concretising the Tories' privatisation programme by scrapping Clause Four of the Labour Party constitution which supported the principle of public ownership and nationalisation.
In his speech to last week's TUC conference in Brighton Tony Blair told the trade union movement that it too must move with the times. This, it turned out, meant there should be no turning back to the past -- in particular the movement should forget any ideas it might have about rolling back the anti-union laws brought in by the Tories.
He softened this by saying that everyone should have the right to belong to a trade union. But though this is welcome, it will be of small comfort if the trade union movement follows the advice of Tony Blair and abandons the struggle to win back the hard won rights to solidarity action and working class defence.
According to Tony Blair, flying pickets, mass pickets, workers' committee meetings and so on are out -- these are among the old fashioned practices that don't fit into his vision of a modern Britain. But practices such as locking workers out of the workplace and organising coach loads of scabs - what you might call "flying blacklegs" come in for no such criticism.
The whole image-making nonsense of claiming that a "new" Britain is being created by the "new" Labour Party is standing the truth on its head. Blair's "new" ideas are in reality very old ideas which seek to turn the clock back for working people.
The great moderniser, Blair, has no intention of allowing any real or fundamental change. He won't even countenance taxing the rich, or scrapping nuclear weapons -- now that would be an advance! Socialism -- which is a far more modern system than out-dated, centuries-old capitalism -- is written off by the Blairites. And yet it is the future, it is the path to progress.
According to the newspapers, Blair has, in the wake of the huge show of public mourning for Princess Diana and the widespread criticisms of the Windsor family, offered to help "modernise" the Royal Family.
Presumably this is in order to improve their public image. But surely such a thoroughly modern Labour leader wouldn't care about the Windsor's image -- so what if the monarchy has lost popularity? What is "modern" about supporting royalty?
But just as with the "modernisations" of the labour movement, the "modernising" of the monarchy is likely to have a more serious purpose than changing the Queen's hats.
The monarchy may also find that "modernisation" means taking something away -- could it be the big business interests of Britain, who want to ease Britain into a single European State think this is the moment to try and trim the considerable constitutional powers of the British Crown to fit a "new" role?
THOUSANDS of dock workers from all around the world last Monday took varying forms of strike action in an unprecedented day of solidarity with the sacked Liverpool dockers, who have now been fighting for two years to get their jobs back.
Australia's dockers were the first to announce they had kicked off the day of protests with the docks of Sidney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Port Kembla, Burnie, Adelaide, Fremantle and Newcastle shut down for five hours -- defying government threats to bring troops into the docks.
The dockers there were also protesting about their Tory government's Thatcherite efforts to break their union.
Later in the day came news from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Seattle that 10,000 dockers had immobilised 30 ports -- the entire western seaboard of the United States, including Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Their strike went from 6pm Monday to 2am on Tuesday -- a whole shift. The effect on shipping was devastating and there were threats to sack workers involved from the Pacific Maritime Association (employers' organisation). Hapag Lloyd ships bound to and from Thamesport, where the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC) acts as the Port Authority, were delayed.
In Canada, the port of St John was shut for 24 hours. And a four hour solidarity action in Halifax, New Brunswick stranded a container skip of the Atlantic Container Line, (ACL). There was massive disruption to all shipping.
Once again, solidarity strikers were threatened with the sack and with anti-union laws against solidarity action. So dockers travelled from Liverpool to stage the picket lines and the local union could avoid direct confrontation with these laws. No one crossed the picket lines.
A twinning ceremony between the Mayor of Halifax and the Mayor of Gothenberg, Sweden, had to be postponed. Vancouver closed in the with the US west coast ports.
The Danish port of Arhus was shut for 24 hours until 7am Tuesday, following a 60-23 vote by the membership in secret ballot.
The Swedish ports of Gothenburg, Stockholm, Malmo, and Helsinborg closed to all shipping to and from Liverpool and Sheerness (owned by MDHC) and all ACL and CAST container traffic was halted.
In Portugal the major ports of Lisbon, Setubal, and Sines were closed for 24 hours also Figueira do Foz and one other port closed for four hours.
In South Africa, solidarity action, boycotting fruit traders bound for Sheerness (owned by MDHC) had been going on already for six weeks. On 9 September there was a rally in Durban addressed by a sacked Liverpool docker.
That was also a day of action in support of the South African dockers' own demands to defend their dock labour scheme. In Cape Town, senior government ministers attended a demo.
In Spain, France and Italy, solidarity actions have been planned for the near future -- and will also be part of action on local disputes.
India and Japan also saw solidarity action. Zenkoku Kowan (the All Japan Dockworkers' Federation) passed a strong resolution last week pledging action against major shipping lines. This will take time to implement.
Union representatives visited the British Embassy in Tokyo. They got a sympathetic reception but asserted that "you must understand that it would be difficult for the Government to solve the problem of Liverpool".
India faces its own docks dispute over wages and conditions.
Amsterdam docks are also locked in a dispute over the sacking of 315 dockers because they could not compete with the casual labour that was being brought in.
Speaking on behalf of the Liverpool dockers, Terry Teague described the situation world-wide, with so many dockers taking part and also engaged in very similar disputes, as "the globalisation of privatisation".
He told the New Worker: "When casuals are put in, it's not just wages that are cut but conditions, pensions, sick pay and holiday pay, all go out the window."
He also said, last Monday: "The action is exceeding all expectations and proves that Liverpool has become a symbol for all dockers who are determined to resist the threats of casual labour, mass sackings, and the deregulation of our industry.
"The Port of Liverpool is stagnating and will not recover until we achieve our reinstatement. We continue to seek meaningful negotiations, but our fight will go on and we intend to win."
There was only one port under British rule that came out in solidarity -- Belfast. Everywhere else, the anti-union laws prevented action.
A very few people in Britain would have found out from our own press and mass media that this magnificent day of action ever happened.
The Financial Times gave it a lttle inside coverage on the Friday before the action and the Morning Star mentioned it in one TUC report. Lloyd's List, the shipping journal covered the story - but unsympathetically.
There will be a Second Anniversary Demonstration in Liverpool on Saturday 27 September, assembling at Myrtle Parade at 12.30pm to march to St George's Hall.
NEW WAGES strategies such as performance-related pay have in no way reduced the involvement of trade unions in negotiating settlements, according to a report issued last week by Industrial Relations Services, an independent employment analyst.
A survey of 128 public and private sector organisations, employing over half a million people, disproved the theory that collective bargaining was incompatible with non-collective pay strategies -- preferred by employers.
This seems to surprise the bosses, who apparently hoped that such divisive practices would lessen union involvement in pay negotiations.
But it comes as no surprise at all to most union activists, who are well aware that the new pay strategies are so complex that only unions can provide the detailed knowledge and information to make sense of the pay deals being offered. "And we find it bloody difficult," said one.
For example, in the Depart ment of Social Security, systems are so complex that progression to a scale maximum is almost a lost concept.
The structure is broken into seven different agencies, each with its own set of negotiations, grading and pay rates. In theory they are all independent and are supposed to negotiate terms best suited to their own needs.
But although the management structure may have fragmented, the unions have not. Most of the workers involved are members of the two major civil service unions PTC and CPSA. And the union negotiators are aware that the strategies employed by each of the seven agencies are remarkably similar.
The base pay rate increases offered range from 2.7 percent to three per cent. All the increases are performance-related, using equity share schemes.
And each agency has been proposing almost identical cuts in working conditions to cover the costs of the increases.
Cuts are being made to overtime rates, meal allowances, travelling time and weekend premiums.
The truth is that all these. agencies are acting under the same strict instructions from the Treasury. The division is a sham but it has not fooled the workers.
Similarly in the Inland Revenue, which has seen massive job cuts while the Tories' tax self assessment scheme has doubled the workload, the apparent rate being offered is 3.9 per cent.
But after various cuts in other rates, it will boil down to just 3.1 per cent with various top-ups that will be strictly performance linked.
The workers have been offered a lump sum to make up any losses. But this will not be entered as a part of their regular pay and will therefore not form part of the levels their pension will be based on.
In effect their future pensions are being attacked and it is the union reps who have pointed this out to the confused workforce.
The workers are angry and may reject the pay deal on a ballot between 12 September and 19 September. But the PTC union leadership does not want to ballot for a strike over pay because it thinks it would probably be lost.
Union activists report unprecedented levels of anger among the ordinary workers after years of Tory pay freezes and are urging their leadership to take a more positive attitude.
They want them to press for other, less drastic forms of industrial action -- overtime bans, work-to-rule and so on -- which probably would win solid backing.
And, in an area where there. simply are not enough staff to do thejob and all are under extreme pressure, such action would create very real problems for the management.
And in the private sector the bosses often use profit-related elements in pay offers. These can prove quite disastrous for the workers.
For example, NatWest Markets, the investment banking arm of the high street banking chain, has recently suffered some disastrous trading losses.
So it has suspended its profitdpay scheme which formed on average £50 of each employee's monthly salary cheque. Around 5,000 workers will suffer this pay cut.
Profit-related pay schemes were introduced by the Tory government in 1987 and linked to tax savings for the employers.
Barclays Bank staff are currently engaged in a bitter dispute over pay. Management is trying to impose a performance-related package that is in effect a pay freeze for up to five years for 25,000 staff.
An overtime ban has failed to bring management to the negotiating table so now there is a new ballot for full strike action by Unifi, the Barclays staff union, and Bifu, the general banking union.
But all these workers are much better off than the thousands who are not in unions.
According to recent figures from the National Statistics Office, approximately four and a half million workers are earning less than £4.42 an hour -- the figure proposed by the unions for the national minimum wage.
This includes almost half of Britain's six million part-time workers and one seventh of full-time workers.
The evidence is overwhelming that it is the presence of an active union which keeps wages from declining.
And it takes an alert union to spot all the dodges and tricks used by bosses to disguise pay cuts in complex performance-related and profit-sharing deals -- and which many bosses would use to try to get round a minimum wage in a workplace with no union.
Arriving for the session and reaffirming Sinn Fein's commitment to the Mitchell principles, which set out the negotiating parameters for a democratic and peaceful solution of Ireland's future, President of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams said: "This is a watershed. There is an expectation and understanding out there of the importance of this moment."
SDLP leader John Hume unequivocally affirmed his party's commitment to the all-inclusive process. He said that these talks represent an unprecedented opportunity "for the first time in our history, to reach agreement on all our key relationships and therefore provide the fundamental basis for lasting stability."
And although invited, no unionist or loyalist parties attended. Three Ulster Unionist Party MPs called for a boycott of the 15 September talks, while members of the much smaller Ulster Democratic Party and Ulster Defence Association, boycotted last Tuesday's opening.
The tensions in the unionist camp are palpable. According to one Irish paper, media pollsters indicate that among the unionist community, the question of sitting down with Sinn Fein has split them down the middle.
Commenting on the unionist absence, Gerry Adams said: "We seek to convince them the way forward has to be new, unprecedented and for all our people."
Some unionists are suggesting a "proximity" format designed to avoid sitting at one table with Sinn Fein. But an imminent decision by the key Ulster Unionist Party led by David Trimble, which had dismissed the opening as a "farce", is to decide on whether or not to return to the talks on Saturday. An 80-minute meeting between Trimble and Premier Tony Blair, as we go to press, has produced nothing more than anti Sinn Fein rhetoric for public consumption.
Last Tuesday night after the opening session, both Irish foreign affairs minister Ray Burke and the minister for political development Paul Murphy, again emphasised the Irish government's commitment to the process while calling upon unionists to rejoin the talks.
Ray Burke said the opportunity now for talks "in a totally peaceful atmosphere" was "unprecedented". It had all the hallmarks, he believed, of being the most significant development since the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty in 1921.
SDLP leader John Hume, pointed out that they should attend talks just as they had sat down with Sinn Fein in Iocal council chambers. John Hume, recognising the stony road ahead, said all parties must be "dedicated" to achieving an agreement "which can then be put to the people of Ireland, north and south, in referenda held on the same day."
Setting out his forthright view, he said that "two sets of legitimate rights" had to be "accommodated" to "both sections of our community", in order that a "final agreement" would have "the total loyalty of all sections of our people." For this, all parties had to be at the talks, he said.
President Clinton's US envoy Senator George Mitchell, chairman of the peace process, thought that in the two-and-a-half years that he had presided over the talks, this afforded the best chance of progress yet at what he called a "critical juncture".
At the opening session Gerry Adams reiterated republican policy: "We enter these negotiations as an Irish republican party, on the basis of ourelectoral mandate and support and with a commitment to engage energetically in the search for a lasting peace settlement in Ireland, based on justice, equality, freedom and democracy."
Last Monday, as he prepared to return from his New York tour, he said that British government policy had to change if a democratic peace settlement was to be achieved. "There is an onus of responsibility on Mr Blair and the British government to do this, and thereby create conditions for real dialogue which can lead to peace."
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has requested that the US Justice Department halt deportation proceedings against seven Irish nationalists on the basis of their past armed actions, to ensure confidence is kept high as talks are expected to begin on Monday.
"Where employees take secondary action during a lawful dispute, workers must have the right totake solidarity action," he said, "without fear of intimidation, legal action against the union, or sequestration of union assets -- particularly where employers take secondary action by transferring work to other plants or other employees."
And he also called for new rights to protect workers from dismissal if they take part in a legal strike, with automatic reinstatement or compensation in cases where they are unlawfully dismissed.
He reminded the government that the unions had provided the majority of funds for Labour's election campaign and "rightly and proudly take a good deal of credit for that victory".
The conference backed calls for all workers to be given full employment rights and many union leaders spoke against Tony Blair's adherence to Tory employment policies.
John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union moved the motion calling for "all rights at work to apply to all employees regardless of hours worked, length of service or the form of contract".
He said: "When I hear the Labour government using Tory phrases, I shiver a little."
Political parties are urging people to accept a new way of working "where employability replaces security and every individual buys their own training and invents their own career structure.
"But what happens if you become a regular follower of fashion, agilely hopping from job to job? The state punishes you.
Edmonds said that every time anyone moves to a new job, they lose their employment rights for two years. "You lay yourself open to being sacked unfairly with minimum notice and without remedy."
The motion was passed unanimously, in spite of Tony Blair's assertions that there will be: "no return" to the old days. His pleas not to rock the boat are not going to cut much ice when he has such a large majority.
The government is due to publish a White Paper early next year on "fairness at work".
On Tuesday Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of the public sector union Unison launched a powerful attack on the Private Finance Initiative -a back door method of privatisation where public assets are handed over to the private sector to fund funds for essential building and repairs, and then they are rented back to the public sector.
He warned that this was not a financially efficient way to run our services -- schools, hospitals and so on -- and lead to higher costs in the long run.
And he warned that the private sector is not necessarily efficient. Already compulsory competitive tendering has forced hospitals to privatise creating jobs -- cleaning, catering and so on.
The workers in these sectors, already low paid, have seen their pay, pensions, holidays and sick pay cut.
And he warned that more workers will suffer when the extra costs of PFI work their way through.
The TUC also pledged to prioritise recruitment, when Tony Burke of the GPMU and head of the TUC New Unionism Task Group gave his report.
"We have got to break into new areas," he said, "and industries where new jobs are going."
He stressed the need to "win over the next generation to union membership, bearing in mind we could have already lost a generation of young people.
"The election of a Labour government will give real hope for the future, but we should not forget that government sympathy is no guarantee of membership growth."
And Tony Burke announced that in October the TUC will recruit a group of trainee organisers "most of them young, at least half of them women, and they will reflect the racial diversity of the workforce we aim to attract."