Attacks on workers won't be countered with hot air!

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
19 September 2006

During his "farewell speech" to the TUC conference, Blair was heckled by delegates. But the fact was that he had been invited to address the audience and only a few people objected. Predictably, he even managed to smuggle one of his lies into his speech. He boasted that there had been a fall in unemployment, when the overall number of jobless has actually increased!

That members of a government which has been turning the screw on the working class for the past 9 years, in order to boost the capitalists' profits, should be allowed to take the platform at the TUC conference is, in and of itself, a damning indication of the union leadership's spinelessness.

But then this is a leadership which also regularly invites the CBI director-general to address its conference. As if an organisation for employers had any place in a trade-union gathering, which is supposed to defend workers' interests against them!

However, this time at least, most of the main union leaders made a point of stating, in more or less diplomatic terms, that it was time for Blair to go. In part, they were echoing their membership's frustration at the government's policy. But above all, just like the eight MPs who resigned from junior government posts earlier this month, union leaders were expressing their worry that Blair has now become a liability for Labour's electoral fortunes.

To be fair, some union leaders did point out that what was needed was not just Blair's departure, but a change of policy. However, everyone knows that all the credible contenders for Blair's job have been implementing his policies in government and are in full agreement with them. So, short of spelling out how such a change of policy can be imposed on Labour - which no-one bothered to do - such talk is just wishful thinking.

A number of TUC heavy-weights made loud noises about "defending public services". We heard that one before! Last year, in fact, the same leaders threatened the largest strike wave since the 1926 General Strike, if the government dared to cut public sector pensions. Well, Labour did just that. But instead of organising any real fight back, union leaders sold out the pensions of future public sector workers - and allowed contributions to be increased for existing workers.

This time, a "national campaign" against cuts in public services, mostly involving the lobbying of MPs, is to be organised. But the TUC has already said that there will be no national demonstration before... February next year! By that time, the 60 "reconfigurations of NHS services" (i.e. the down-grading or closure of A&Es and other units, the closures of wards and, in some cases, hospital closures) which have just been announced, will be well underway. And the 1,400 workers of NHS Logistics, who supply hospitals with everything from medicines to beds, and who are about to take strike action against being sold to DHL, the parcel company, will have been left to fight on their own.

As if the government's "reforms" of public services - i.e. its overt and hidden privatisations, its jobs and service cuts and its attacks on pensions - were not intolerable enough to provide a basis on which all public sector workers could unite and fight back - not tomorrow, not the day after, but right now!

As to private sector workers, TUC leaders do not show any more concern for their interests. When Britain's largest water company, Thames Water, announced a 25% cut in its workforce, after posting a 31% increase of its profits, and Aviva, the country's largest insurance company, said it would cut 4,000 jobs following a 25% profit hike, what did the TUC leaders have to say? Did they talk about the urgent need for collective action in order to counter the greed of these super-rich job-slashers? Not a chance!

Sure, they make noises against the government's policies in general and Blair in particular. They pass resolutions demanding the repeal of the anti-strike legislation. They even commit TUC unions to "support" any strike aimed at defending public services (although, what this "support" really involves is never actually spelt out).

This is all very well. But without a clear plan of action, which has well-defined objectives corresponding to the real problems facing the working class, and which is designed to unite and set in motion all categories of workers, public and private, all this talk is just hot air.

It is not a change in government which will change the life of the working class. It is only when the working class arms itself with a plan for collective action that it will be able to start regaining the ground which has been lost over the past period.