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300 Issues of the Socialist
Growing discontent at Blair's capitalist policies
THIS IS the 300th issue of the socialist - our first issue was published in February 1997. At a special conference two months earlier, Militant Labour members had voted to change our party's name to Socialist Party and our paper's name from Militant to The Socialist.
As Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe said in issue one,
"The socialist has not fallen from the sky. It is the creation of more than three decades of struggle.
"Militant and Militant supporters have participated in, or led, some of the British working class's most important struggles in this period, such as ...the heroic battles of the Liverpool labour movement and working class between 1983 and 1987 which humbled Thatcher, and with the mighty poll tax battle and Youth against Racism in Europe's struggle against racism and fascism."
We aimed to follow in that tradition. In 1997 John Major and his sleazy Tories were still in office but an election was due soon. "Things can only get better" was New Labour's election theme song in 1997. Many people hoped that Blair would make things better for working-class people.
Our first front page said "Stop the Health rip-off - patients before profit." It spoke of hospital closures and understaffing with operations cancelled and threats by NHS Trusts to hive off the health service through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). The New Labour years, however, have not made things any better - far from it.
Just before the 1997 election our front page said:
"After 18 years of greed, sleaze and growing inequality, it's high time we kicked the Tories out.
"New Labour will continue the Tories' worthless policies of dole queues, union bashing, low pay and cut backs. We will need to prepare to fight back. Join the struggle for real socialist change with the Socialist Party."
"Blair and Brown" we explained, "have moved New Labour so far to the right that it is now a capitalist party... Blair had said that his ultimate aim was to abolish the ideological divide with the Tory party over 'the market', i.e. capitalism, by the end of his first government."
New Labour soon proved us right. In his first week as chancellor Gordon Brown reversed the nationalisation of the Bank of England and gave it sole power to decide future interest rates so hitting hopes of increasing public spending - hopes which were in any case dashed by Brown's years of "financial prudence".
And there were also early signs of union anger as Essex firefighters held strikes against the county council's £1.5 million cuts in the fire service. The Fire Brigades Union were to suffer more attacks from the Blair government in 2002 and 2003.
Low pay scandal
"LAST YEAR," said the socialist in 1999: "the United Nations declared Britain one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the 'developed' world. Most of the 14 million people living below the poverty line are 'working poor', held down by scandalously low wages.
"But anyone looking to New Labour's minimum wage to help lift them out of poverty will have had their hopes crushed... The low paid were being offered a miserly £3.60 an hour...The total wage bill is expected to rise by only 0.5%. No wonder the bosses' club, the CBI, find £3.60 'acceptable'."
We demanded a minimum wage equivalent to the European decency threshold which could help families escape from the poverty trap.
Next, the government turned its fire on students at universities whose grants were abolished and tuition fees introduced. An article in the socialist said
"Unless students are rich, or have guaranteed well-paid employment at the end of their course, they will not be able to risk running up a huge debt in order to get an education."
Not content with exposing New Labour just in words, Socialist Party members formed the backbone of Save Free Education (SFE). Unfortunately many in the students union leadership wanted to follow in the same career footprints as New Labour, many of whose top figures were ex-NUS bureaucrats.
Their feeble fight means that New Labour felt free to bring in ever-higher fees, making the road of higher education more and more a poverty-stricken one, particularly for those from working-class backgrounds.
Teachers too found themselves in opposition to New Labour. Socialist Party members of the teachers union NUT have helped lead opposition to privatisation and are now playing a vital role in developing the boycott of SATS, the tests for school students which underlie many of New Labour's worst education policies such as league tables of schools, performance-related pay for teachers etc.
HEALTH SERVICE workers and the working class in general are angry at New Labour's attempts to weaken the NHS. The socialist reported, for instance how Dudley hospital workers went on strike against privatisation.
Socialist Party members Mick Griffiths and Adrian O'Malley, UNISON activists in Wakefield and Pontefract hospitals, have been fighting plans for PFI in hospitals both locally and nationally. For all New Labour's talk of improving services, their main aim has been to boost profits.
How else can you explain, Mick Griffiths asked in the socialist, why PFI critic Allyson Pollock has been thrown off the Commons Health Select Committee 'independent' inquiry team while proponents of PFI - firms which stood to gain from the schemes - stay on the team?
Privatisation in the railways has been such a failure that the railways are blatantly unsafe. The socialist reported that after the 1999 Paddington disaster, surveys showed that 73% of people favoured renationalisation. Far from taking this step, New Labour have now handed control over London's tube system to private companies.
MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY has kept up its decline under Blair. Car workers have faced job losses and closures at Rover, Ford, Vauxhall and many other plants. In 2000, Rover sold its car plant at Longbridge to asset-strippers known as Alchemy Partners. The threat of massive job cuts led to a huge demo in Birmingham.
Dave Nellist commented in the socialist that hopes that capitalism could save Rover jobs were forlorn:
"There's an estimated 40% overcapacity in car production worldwide. To match the number of cars built internationally to the ability of people to buy them would require 80 less assembly plants.
"That's why multinational car companies are trying to increase their market share by mergers, rather than by investment in new models they can't sell. This has involved Ford, Volvo, Jaguar and now Land Rover; Daimler and Chrysler; Peugeot and Mitsubishi; General Motors and Fiat. They are all pursuing the same basic strategy."
As a Rover worker told the socialist:
"There's no support for the government in the factories now. People are in favour of nationalisation because there is no alternative."
The collapse of industry has also meant there is less 'demand' for steel. Who suffers there? Steel workers.
We reported how the closure of large parts of Llanwern steelworks would hit the whole area around Newport.
"We built it, the Tories privatised it and now Corus are going to throw it on the scrap heap. They have no right," insisted a Llanwern steel worker for 35 years.
Privatised Corus's chairman Sir Brian Moffit explained why he was sacking thousands of workers when he said: "Corus does not make steel, it makes money." In other words workers were getting the sack just to keep Corus shareholders and the City of London happy.
THE trade union leaders failed time and again to build strike action and make demands for nationalisation under workers' control and management. But the mood of the working class was getting angrier and more militant with strikes such as those by low-paid local government workers.
This mood also led to the election of a new "awkward squad" of trade union leaders who seemed less hidebound by loyalty to the pro-capitalist anti-union New Labour.
Union members have also tried to loosen their unions' links to New Labour which bring Blair's party around £6 million of members' dues every year. The postal workers' union CWU, rail workers in the RMT, the firefighters in FBU have all threatened to withdraw financial support from New Labour or to loosen the financial ties.
The Socialist Party initiated a cross-union campaign, Free the Funds, which aims to liberate the unions' political funds so they can be used to back candidates and parties whose policies defend members interests. We are campaigning for a new, mass workers' party which would represent the real interests of working class people.
In the meantime the Socialist Party has scored some important successes in elections. In 1998 Dave Nellist was elected as Socialist Party councillor for St Michaels ward in Coventry and was later joined by Karen McKay and Rob Windsor.
In 1999 Ian Page was elected a Socialist Party councillor for Pepys ward (now Telegraph Hill) in Lewisham and was later joined for 18 months by Sam Dias. Sam, a black single parent and a tenants' activist in her local community said after she won the seat:
"I'm an ordinary tenant from the Honor Oak estate who has beaten a candidate of the governing party. This is a vote for ordinary working-class people."
In the first issue of the socialist, Dave Nellist said
"Working people and their families need a paper that will tell them the truth - that will be on their side, campaigning against injustice and unashamedly fighting for a real change in the ownership, control and direction of society. The socialist will be that paper. Take out a subscription today - you won't regret it!"
Ever since the start of this millennium, capitalism's failures have become more blatant. The world's Stock Exchanges have suffered what are in effect calamitous falls. This exposed the dangerous, but at one time fashionable, "new paradigm" of big business economists - that capitalist markets are ever-expanding - as nonsense.
In our first issue, Peter Taaffe explained why our party and our paper
"must be called socialist because out of the life experiences of the British working class, which will include mass disillusionment with the Labour Party's openly pro-capitalist leadership, will come a searching for an alternative.
"At a certain stage this will result in a colossal wave of enthusiasm for socialism... The socialist, can greatly assist in this development."
As the world capitalist economy gets deeper into trouble, Peter's predictions will become even more relevant and the socialist will play a vital part in that development.
Years Of War And Revolution
ONE OF the most widely admired features of the socialist is our international coverage. The Socialist Party is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) which is organised in 36 countries.
We get regular accounts of strikes, protests, moves towards revolution or counter-revolution or warfare.
We have carried extensive reports of revolutionary developments. In 1998, Indonesia's dictator and multinationals' friend Suharto, was overthrown by a revolutionary movement of the masses.
Suharto had been armed by British and US imperialism for over three decades, after coming to power in a coup which killed a million people.
In the same year there was a report of a major workers' victory in Australia. Anti-union laws, scab employers and bosses' governments had failed to beat 1,400 striking dockers. Steve Jolly from Melbourne reported that:
"The strong union organisation remains. No scab labour will be allowed in Patrick's, the employers concerned in this strike.
"The police were unable to break any of the mass pickets. After the big defeat for the police on the Melbourne picket line on 18 April, there was no major attempt to break the line. Pickets have held solid.
"When the battleground moved to the courtrooms the unions, backed by the power of the workers, won every time."
Serbia had suffered 78 days of ferocious bombardment by NATO forces in 1999, ostensibly to get rid of dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
In October 2000, however, a revolutionary mass movement of a million people in Serbia removed the old regime in one week through strikes, storming the national parliament buildings and taking over the main government television station.
A Serb socialist who had participated in the demonstrations told the socialist:
"It was decisive that the people stayed on the streets even when it became dangerous, when the police used teargas and in some cases their guns."
In Northern Ireland in January 2002, Belfast Socialist Party members reported "80,000 turned out in Belfast for the trade union demonstration on 18 January against sectarian attacks.
"This was bigger than any previous anti sectarian trade union rallies held during the Troubles."
The turnout reflected the anger of workers, Catholic and Protestant at the murder of Daniel McColgan, a young postal worker shot dead by the loyalist UFF. The Socialist Party in Northern Ireland, with its long and proud record of fighting for workers' unity, said that
"these rallies show that the working class have the power to isolate and defeat the bigots. That power must now be used with the communities to call a halt to what is happening."
We also commented on the rise of the anti-capitalist movement, mainly of young people, against the horrific inequality in the world.
Starting in Seattle in 1999, the mass demonstrations in places such as Nice, Gothenburg and elsewhere were getting bigger and exposed the pessimism of those who talked of "apathetic" or self-absorbed youth.
The socialist had eye-witness reports from protests at the G8 summit in Genoa in the summer of 2001 and saw the anger after the Italian police shot dead young protester Carlo Giuliani, and brutally attacked and injured hundreds more.
THAT ANGER at the effects of the capitalist system grew as the world entered a period of wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. After the horror of 11 September the socialist said:
"The killing of thousands of innocent civilians in New York, Washington and elsewhere in the US has caused horror and revulsion among ordinary working people worldwide.
"The suicide tactics of the attackers are condemned and opposed by socialists. Such tactics can never advance the struggles of oppressed nationalities or working-class people anywhere across the globe.
"In fact the immediate results of such action could be to weaken working-class solidarity as governments in the West whip up the mood for revenge on those who are blamed for carrying out the attacks.
"Inevitably, as on 11 September, it will be the workers, the oppressed and dispossessed who pay the price for what the US leaders and commentators describe as an 'act of war'."
We also warned:
"Waging war against Afghanistan, where bin Laden is thought to be living, or any other country, will not end terrorism. On the contrary it will increase tension, instability and turmoil worldwide.
"Thousands of Afghan civilians have already been killed during more than 20 years of civil war. 3.8 million are refugees, the largest group in the world.
"Inside Afghanistan even before recent events, four million people were on the brink of starvation. Now aid workers have had to withdraw and millions face a desperate situation...
"Global capitalism is responsible for the poverty, repression and conflict which, in the absence of mass parties of the working class and oppressed people, has led some to the blind alley of terrorism."
The threat of war by the world's biggest imperialist state against one of the poorest nations on earth started to build up the anti-war movement.
At a 50,000 strong anti-war demo in October 2001 Nahim, originally from Afghanistan, told the socialist: "While the US's war is with the Taliban it's just not right to kill innocent people in the process - that's terrorism in itself. That's why we're here."
No war for oil
ALTHOUGH THE Taliban regime in Afghanistan was easily defeated militarily, attention swiftly shifted to Iraq as US president Bush repeatedly claimed that Saddam had a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological and nuclear - which threaten not only the region but even the US itself.
That was a blatant lie. US and British imperialism had also been among the forces which had armed the Saddam dictatorship for years just as it had originally built up the Afghan Taliban. This produced an unprecedented mass movement of anger against the threat war.
In February this year, 30 million demonstrated worldwide. Britain saw its biggest demo ever as up to two million people demonstrated in London on 15 February.
The socialist interviewed a young man from Reading who said:
"There's no justification for this war. The problems of Iraq are far broader than Iraq itself, it goes to the root of capitalism and also the Israel/Palestine question can't be left out."
Our paper had extensive coverage of the magnificent school and college students' strikes worldwide against this war.
Voice for workers
Bush's victory over Saddam's regime was intended to increase US imperialism's economic and military dominance of the entire globe.
But the problems they face in their occupation foreshadow the problems for imperialism to come, not least from workers within the USA, where public services are being wrecked just to pay for the war. The richest 0.5% of the US population own as much as the bottom 90%.
But as Hannah Sell pointed out in her article in the socialist last month, the problem for the working class in the US and in Britain is that they have as yet,
"no organised voice to campaign for and lead mass action, whether against imperialist war or to the class war conducted by big business at home.
"The struggle to create such voices - mass parties that organise and represent the working class in the imperialist countries - is a vital part of the struggle against imperialist war."
In The Socialist 17 May 2003: