Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/240/24920
Gloves Off Over Privatisation
NEW LABOUR'S privatisation juggernaut is ploughing forward, attempting to destroy everything in its path.
Speaking in Newcastle at the end of January, Blair tried to portray himself as the 'friend' of public service workers. But just over a week later, at Labour's local government conference, the gloves came off; anyone prepared to stand up against privatisation was denounced as a "wrecker".
The message is clear; the only public-sector workers Blair will be 'friendly' to are those who let private companies come in and cream off profits from public services, give up hard-earned rights on pay and conditions and accept thousands of job cuts.
Some people hoped that when the government took back Railtrack, it was retreating from privatisation and returning to 'Old Labour' values. This was wishful thinking. Faced with the complete failure of Railtrack, New Labour felt compelled to take some action.
They might even have to do the same in the future, with Nats for example, the air traffic control system which, according to Nats itself, is facing financial collapse.
However, New Labour are still ideologically committed to pursuing privatisation both to directly enrich their real friends in big business and to reduce the share of profits that the capitalists pay in taxes towards state spending. In a situation of economic crisis they could be pushed even further in this direction.
So they are going ahead with part privatisation of the Tube, even though it could create an 'underground Railtrack'. And Royal Mail is to be opened up to private competition despite the National Audit Office saying that it would undermine the universal postal service.
Stephen Byers stated that the government should be thrown out if the rail service doesn't improve, while Blair said that he will suffer the consequences if the NHS is not fixed. They will come to regret those words.
Although public spending has increased in the latest spending round, it has barely made up for New Labour sticking to Tory spending plans during its first two years in office. People's perception is that things are not getting better. Two-thirds believe that the NHS is in a poor shape.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies calculates that to maintain current levels of spending and bring NHS spending to European levels would lead to a shortfall of £17 billion. And that's assuming that the economy grows at 2.5% a year which, given the international economic situation, is extremely unlikely. Brown is already hinting at tax rises, but of course they refuse to raise income tax for the rich.
An economic recession will mean lower tax receipts and increased spending on benefits. In that situation New Labour will want to further step up their privatisation plans and private companies will be looking to make cuts and attack pay and conditions to boost profits.
That's why the strategy that some union leaders are pursuing, of trying to negotiate partial concessions for 'privatised' workers in the NHS for example, is completely inadequate.
National action is the only real strategy to defeat privatisation. And public ownership under the democratic control and management of workers and service users is the only way to guarantee quality public services for all.
In The Socialist 8 February 2002: