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From The Socialist newspaper, 28 September 2001

Fighting Privatisation - The Struggle Goes On

BEFORE THE horrific attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, an anti-privatisation mood was growing amongst public-sector workers in Britain.

Union leaders, feeling the heat below, were making angry noises, even threatening strike action. Now the GMB union has suspended its campaign against New Labour's privatisation plans, because, it said: "It is simply inappropriate to argue over this at a time when we should be showing solidarity".

By Ken Smith

Public-sector workers will want to show solidarity with the thousands of US workers killed in the 11 September attacks. But not by sitting back and allowing Blair to privatise their jobs. Urgent action is needed now to ensure that the union leaders deliver on their earlier promises.

All services currently in the public sector should remain there. Indeed, effective action to protect workers' jobs and conditions, as well as the safety and services of the wider public, requires action to bring essential service back into public ownership.

John Edmonds, leader of the GMB union said that privatisation could become Blair's poll tax. Union members will clearly remember that it was mass action that brought down the hated poll tax.

The privatisation of London Underground, health, education, the Post Office and others shows that a widespread onslaught is planned on the living standards of all working-class people, not just those who work in those sectors.

Because of the abrupt end to the TUC, demands like the Fire Brigade Union's for a "national public demonstration in support of public-sector services" was not debated. Such a demand would have been likely to have got majority support at the TUC and it should still be pushed for through the trade unions.

Blair has tried to mollify the union leaders by arguing that as long as the core of a public service remains then it doesn't matter who runs the rest of it. He promises that the workers currently employed in the public sector will keep their present terms and conditions.

But, even the trade union leaders who are Blair loyalists didn't quite fall for this one. Bitter experience shows Blair can't be trusted.

Blair tried to pacify his TUC opponents by saying that private firms running public services will be instructed not to make big profits or exploit their workers. What a load of bull.

If he feels that companies making huge profits shouldn't exploit their workers why doesn't he and Brown take action against the fat cats - like Simpson at Marconi or Corbett before he left Railtrack?

On the day of his planned speech to the TUC, Blair showed his contempt for workers' rights by dismissing criticism of Labour's involvement with McDonald's as irrelevant. This is a firm that has opposed union rights for its workers and has been publicly slammed by a High Court judge for its low pay and poor working conditions.

We've all seen Blair's and New Labour's concessions before. He says one thing and does another. Only a national fight, including industrial action, against privatisation can stop the Blairite threat. Such action needs to be organised now.


Barts Hospital

The royal London and Barts hospital trust held an open day on 19 September to show the public how good they where at delivering health services

But the UNISON branch organized a protest instead to demonstrate their opposition to the trust's plans to privatise many of the ancillary services by means of a Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

Phil billows, the branch secretary spoke to Bill Mullins

"This is the biggest PFI in the health service, the trust have identified over 1,000 staff to be shunted off to the PFI. The trust are not interested in the trials, that are not due to end until October (these are national trials where staff whose work is privatised can stay as NHS employees, though even this seems to have been postponed).

The trust thought they could have an open day to show how good they are but they are embarrassed by the unison stall. Dave Prentis (UNISON general secretary) said at the TUC the union would give backing to any branch that wanted to take strike action because they were being transferred from the NHS against the workers' wishes. That's why we are here today".


Bitter Experience

1 - The building of private finance hospitals for the NHS has meant that hospitals, like North Durham, end up costing 22 million more with 100 less beds than if it was provided by the public sector.

2 - Where education services have been privatised, educational standards and achievement have gone backwards, like in Islington.

3 - Former local authority workers who work for a privatised company contracted to Labour-controlled Brighton council have now seen their employer and employment rights changed five times in some cases, leaving things like their pension rights in disarray.


Anti-Privatisation Conference

Public-sector workers must organise now to prepare national action in the workplaces and communities. That's why the Socialist Party is supporting Broad Left activist organisations in several public-sector unions who are planning an anti-privatisation conference on 24 November.

Ensuring the success of this conference can lay the basis for an effective co-ordinated fightback against privatisation.

For this conference to be a success, Socialist Party members and union activists need to raise the conference in their workplace and union branches.

The experience of localised struggles against privatisation have shown that privatisation can be stopped - such as that led by Socialist Party members in Wakefield and Waltham Forest - but they have also shown the need for national action. Dudley hospital workers mounted a long and determined struggle to stop privatisation plans but were ultimately defeated as the national union did not deliver solidarity action, which could have ensured their success.

London Underground workers have also continued a sustained campaign against privatisation which has included strike action on health and safety issues.

They have also had widespread public support in London for their action. But again their union leaders accepted a deal solely on the safety and jobs' issues involved, rather than continuing the struggle to keep the tube a publicly owned and run service.

All these experiences will no doubt be brought out at the conference but there will also be the urgently needed discussion on how circumvent the anti-union laws and prepare and ensure victorious national action to stop privatisation.

Conference details: Saturday 24 November, 11am-4pm, University of London Union, Malet Street, London WC1. Further information at PCSLeftUnity@tesco.net or www.pcsleftunity.uk7.net.
Or write to Chris Baugh, 133 Highcross Road, Poulton Le Fylde, Lancashire FY6 8BX.

Why I'm Attending

RAY FLEMING, branch secretary of East London postal section of the Communication Workers' Union, spoke to Pete Mason expressing his support for the conference:

"IT'S A good idea to have a cross-union conference. I welcome any move to halt the steady flow of privatisation, especially in the health service.

"Our main worry in the Whitechapel sorting office is the forthcoming transfer to Twelve Trees Crescent. The rumours are that Consignia will outsource the new mail centre when we move there late next year. The German communications group Siemens is widely rumoured to be the private sub-contractor - but if so will we be employed on the terms and conditions we have now? It's a good example of the privatisation we have to fight against."

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In The Socialist 28 September 2001:

No To Bush And Blair's War

BA Workers Say: We Won't Pay For Bosses' Recession

Opposition To This War Will Grow

Anti-War Voices In USA

Why is Pakistan at the centre of US war plans?

Afghanistan - No Peace And No Justice

Fighting Privatisation - The Struggle Goes On


 

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