The Socialist 3 May 2007 |
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Widening wealth gap needs working-class response
What is Tony Blair's legacy? The Sunday Times has no doubts. Its latest 'Rich List' revealed that the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain has more than trebled in the decade since Tony Blair came to power. They had an income between them of £360 billion over the last year, which was £59 billion more than the previous year, an increase of 20%.
This was a bigger percentage increase even than the top 50 earners in Europe, whose wealth increased by 15% over the last year. Another statistic showing the trend is that the number of billionaires living in Britain has tripled in the last four years. They are flocking to Britain from around the world because here, they can "avoid paying virtually any tax apart from the council tax" an accountant told the guardian newspaper.
Blair has no regrets about this. On the contrary, according to his close ally, Lord Falconer, Blair will only leave office this summer with "big regrets" at not having moved even faster than he has done with his pro-market 'reforms' of public services.
It is in this situation - with New Labour facing electoral meltdown in the local, Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly elections on 3 May - that most of the trade union leaders are still financing and cosying up to New Labour. At the time of writing, New Labour is predicted to lose hundreds of councillors, the SNP could become the largest party in the Scottish parliament and Plaid Cymru and the Tories could possibly gain domination of the Wales assembly. New Labour may have their worst result for over 50 years.
But neither most of the trade union leaders, nor a significant number of Labour MPs, nor even the remnants of the Labour Party membership are willing to support either of the two Labour left wing challengers for the Labour leadership - John McDonnell and Michael Meacher - when Blair announces his departure.
Nature of New Labour
Even when Michael Meacher and John McDonnell do an expected deal for one of them to stand down, the other will still struggle to get the necessary nominations of 45 Labour MPs. A YouGov poll of Labour Party members showed that the combined vote from that source for the two of them would come to only 15%.
This shows the nature of the Labour Party today, whose 'mass' membership consists of a rump of councillors, full time officials and just handfuls of dispirited former activists. Yet the trade union leaders and left individuals like Michael Meacher and John McDonnell continue to argue that they should maintain influence on the Labour leaders.
John McDonnell wrote for the guardian (30.4.07): "If, in a leadership election, there was a sizeable vote for an alternative vision for the future, Labour's broad church tradition would have been reasserted. Any leader wanting to unite and mobilise the party in the runup to the next general election would have to respect this re-emergence, both in policy formulation and in the construction of the government."
But the vote for the left challenger is not going to be 'sizeable' and the Labour leaders have shown that no left or trade union individuals will put them off their pro-market course.
When he is Labour leader (in all likelihood), Gordon Brown will probably try to distance himself from Blair's unpopularity by appearing different in some ways - as being a new start. But his policies will remain fundamentally the same. The Labour leaders only have the neo-liberal policies of privatisation, de-regulation, cuts in public services and so on. The same is true of the other capitalist parties, the Tories and Lib Dems.
Across the channel, a non-choice also faces working-class people in France, where snarling pro-neoliberal right wing candidate Nicholas Sarkozy faces 'smiling' pro-neoliberal Socialist Party candidate Sˇgol¸ne Royal in the final round of the presidential election on Sunday. There is nothing socialist about the French Socialist Party. Many workers will vote for Royal just to oppose Sarkozy's particularly vehement anti-trade union and pro-big business stance, but many others will not be convinced it is worth voting for her.
This is because although she would take a less directly confrontational approach towards workers' demands, her keenness to reassure big business and rule well-within the boundaries of capitalism, mean that she would certainly launch attacks on the working class, as the French Socialist Party has done before when in power.
But the other certainty is that, whether Sˇgo or Sarko, the French working class will fight back in the same determined manner as when they defeated an attack on young workers' rights (the CPE law) last year.
In Britain, the government has thrown down the gauntlet with a derisory pay offer to health workers and others of less than 2% this year (see front page). Health workers need to follow the example of the PCS union and prepare for strike action, preferably co-ordinated across the entire public sector. Working-class people do not have to sit back and suffer further attacks on living standards. Rather, when fully mobilised, workers will be a force capable of starting to shift the division of wealth in society back in the direction of the majority of people, eventually securing ownership of that wealth for the majority.
See www.socialistparty.org.uk from Friday 4 May onwards, or next week's the socialist, for analysis of the 3 May election results.