Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/210/8547
What we think
Union Leaders Belated Warnings To Labour
NEW LABOUR'S second term will be more turbulent than the first, particularly in its dealings with the unions. Even before the election, clear signs emerged of strains and tensions over the unions' financial links to Labour and, without recent precedent, a number of major strikes occurred during the election period
Following the election, major union leaders belatedly issued warnings to Labour about its plans to privatise public services - trying to counter New Labour's propaganda war that the only way to effectively run public services is through private companies.
Clearly, the union leaders, who did everything not to rock the boat for Labour during the election, are now panicking about how to respond to Blair's offensive.
Dave Prentis of UNISON, John Edmonds of the GMB and Bill Morris of the TGWU unions were joined by Ken Livingstone in saying that private companies won't run public services more effectively. This is all very true as our report on page 3 makes clear.
But appeals to Blair to be reasonable or arguments about the economic madness of privatisation won't work. Clearly, Blair's cabinet is ideologically driven to carry out this massive sell-off of public assets.
Even although we are opposed to compensation for Fat Cat shareholders, it would cost the government less to buy back Railtrack at its full current value than it would for them to carry on subsidising it. Opinion poll after opinion poll shows an overwhelming majority oppose privatisation and want most public utilities renationalised.
But also part of the government's agenda is that Blair, Brown and the rest are preparing the way for a breaking of public-sector union organisation.
Witnessing the potential power of London Underground and postal workers in recent disputes, New Labour wants to cut off at source any potential flashpoints in its second term.
Despite the anti-union laws and the fragmentation of various sectors, like health and rail, making it very difficult to effectively organise national or widespread action, workers have shown they can organise to resist Labour's plans and deliver a bloody nose to the bosses.
Blair's chief cheerleader in the unions, Sir Ken Jackson of the AEEU has echoed the idea raised by cabinet ministers that strikes should be outlawed in essential services.
Such threats will backfire on New Labour. Even if the union leaders are only prepared to mount token protests and resistance to privatisation plans, the mood of the workforce is far angrier.
Public-sector workers, unlike 1997, did not greet the re-election of Labour with any enthusiasm. Instead, there was a recognition that it was going to be four or five years of more of the same.
There have been a number of significant struggles against NHS privatisation in Wakefield (which was successful) and the Dudley healthworkers who despite 80 days of strike action were left stranded by their union leaders.
To avoid public-sector workers being picked off area by area. That's why it is essential for those at the union conferences and union members in the areas to raise the idea of preparing nationally co-ordinated action, including strike action, to stop Blair's privatisation crusade.
In The Socialist 15 June 2001: