Britain - Year one of Blair's era is over...

May/Jun 1998

Judging from the headlines in the run-up to the first anniversary of Blair's accession to power, his is a success story. From Brussels to Paris, Northern Ireland to Israel, and of course Iraq, Blair always has something to say, a lesson to teach and a sermon to make, to these "ignorant foreigners". Britain is back on the frontstage of the world scene, with a vengeance and Blair at the helm. "Rule Britannia" (or is it "Cool Britannia?) hums in the background and the bulldog which paraded last year in Blair's election address on TV is probably panting in excitement close by.

Suddenly all references to Britain's dismal state have disappeared from the media, no doubt to avoid spoiling the "people's joy" during the grand celebration which has been planned for the early days of May. Besides, there is an election coming. Talking about welfare just a few weeks ahead of the May 7th local election would probably be unwise, in any case, a bit of a risk. Blair prefers to rise to the defence of the deceased Diana and her live brother, who seems to be doing very well out of the flood of paraphernalia generated by his sister's death. And we can only expect an endless flood of flowery comments and speeches to celebrate New Labour's "success story".

But what really is the state of Britain at the end of year one of Blair's era?

The Sunday Times' rich list gives its own side of the picture. Today the country's top 50 wealthy have combined assets worth significantly more than the total value produced in a year by the 4.5m inhabitants of the Republic of Ireland. Going down the rich list, one sees that the richest 200 are only 6% better off than last year. But today, their combined wealth - in other words what they have stolen from society for their own private enjoyment - is larger than the entire welfare bill on which over 12 million people have to depend in some way. But it is these 12 million that Blair accuses of parasitism, not the 200 richest parasites who live off workers' labour!

Leading the pack are, as no-one failed to notice, Blair's personal friends - Lord Sainsbury in number one, whose wealth increased by a hefty 30% over the past year, and Bernie Ecclestone, who raced up from 58th position to 6th, multiplying his savings by six in the process. These last two, like a majority of those in the Sunday Times' list, owe their increased value to soaring share prices - that is to the profits that British bosses have made and are expected to make in the coming year, out of the sweat of working people. These two are symbols of the exclusive and affluent Britain that this Labour government has chosen to serve - exclusively.

The other side of the picture, of course, is the one over which Blair has been brandishing his whip for a whole year - the "low-cost, flexible" Britain.

Early in April a survey of wages advertised in JobCentres across the country showed rates as low as £2/hr for a security guard, £2/hr for a hairdresser, £2.70/hr for a clerical assistant, etc.. And it is not difficult to guess what the score may be with cow-boy employers who do not dare advertise through JobCentres! Meanwhile Blair's aides are still pondering over what form of minimum wage might be most acceptable for the bosses by the end of 1999 - regardless of the fact that present low wage levels are already becoming intolerable for working people. For despite all the rethoric about "unreasonable" pay rises which are supposed to threaten the economy with inflation, low wages haven't stopped the downward slide they started under the Tories. On the contrary, the slide seems to be accelerating. Only the pay packages of the boardroom fat cats are still rising, and faster than ever!

On the other side of the picture are also the tens of thousands - and the numbers are rising - of disabled whose benefits are being reduced by Blair's snooping squads, just because they don't look disabled enough for the "New Welfare". Then there are the single mothers, and all those on income support, who are submitted to harassment and victimised because, in Blair's era, failing to get a job is considered suspicious, possibly criminal.

The same section of the population which had been pushed into benefits under the previous Tory governments and marginalised into permanent unemployment, are now being pushed by Blair off benefits, into a growing no-man's land of poor who are deprived of any sort of regular income - working class people, who are still of working age, but have somehow dropped out of all official statistics to join the shadowy world of the "inactive". For the Labour government, such people just no longer exist.

Nor does unemployment exist any more in the official jargon - only people who are unwilling or unable to work. Since the "New Deal" was officially launched nationally in April, the issue of unemployment is officially considered resolved. Yet, any "flexible JobSeeker" knows that, however much one bends over backwards, there just aren't any real jobs available. But such crude realities are simply ignored or denied by this government.

A year ago, "give him time" used to be the watchword of those workers who could not believe that Blair was really as bad news as he made out. But he was - and worse news even than he sounded! Who, among those workers, would have believed then, that Labour's plan for welfare would be to replace benefits with fairy tales and that Brown's answer to the unemployed protesting against welfare cuts would be to paint the idyllic portrait of a happy "working family" enjoying the tax rebates "generously" offered by Labour's New Welfare... some time after the year 2000?

Today, these illusions, which were already not so widespread a year ago, have probably mostly disappeared, at least in the ranks of the working class, who are at the receiving end of Labour's so- called "reforms". What hasn't emerged yet, is the anger, the will and the determination, which will be needed to wipe that cynical grin off Blair's face - not yet, but this will come eventually.

The Tory years built up the confidence of the bosses - something for which the working class paid dearly, with its jobs and conditions and its rights at work. But today, with the busy- bodying displayed by Labour ministers, the bosses' confidence is turning into a sense of triumph. Between the endless rise of the stock market and the endless growth of their profits, thanks to the concessions they extract from the working class and the enthusiastic help of this government, the bosses may be tempted to think that there is no limit to their power, nor to the exploitation they can impose on workers. And this is what will eventually spell their downfall.

One day, and it does not necessarily have to be very far off, the bosses or their Labour managers will turn the screw just that one notch too far and trigger an explosion of anger - that same anger which is already brewing today beneath the surface. No-one knows how long it will take before this happens. But it will happen. And when it does, the class struggle will reclaim workers' rights in this country, and Blair's "New Labour" will become old news.