The Socialist 29 June 2001 |
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Deeds Not Words Needed To Stop Privatisation
IN RECENT weeks, union conferences - the communication workers and UNISON - learned 'think tanks' and statistics galore have piled up a crushing case against privatisation. The Cullen Report graphically revealed Railtrack's negligence which led one angry survivor to say that Gerald Corbett, former Chief Executive, had "blood on his hands and should face criminal charges".
The Mirror, usually slavish in supporting New Labour, hinted that the government should take the industry back into state hands commenting: "Privatising the railways was always going to put profits first - that is how private industry works".
72% supported railway renationalisation before the Cullen Report. That figure will have leapt upwards following its revelations. 42% even support BT's renationalisation. In every sector there is massive and growing opposition to the government's privatisation policies.
UNISON conference, to wide publicity, as other reports show, passed a resolution moved by a Socialist Party member, to review the political links with New Labour, the party of mass privatisation.
Even Roy Hattersley, once the guru of Labour's extreme right, is now demanding a "counter-coup" against Blair's programme. Hattersley, however, bears a heavy responsibility for the present state of New Labour.
He collaborated with Kinnock in expelling Militant (now the Socialist Party) supporters in the 1980s, which we predicted would end up with Labour breaking with socialism and following the path of the US Democrats.
Nevertheless, Hattersley's opposition as well as that from TUC general secretary John Monks, at least in words, and other union leaders indicates the growing anger from below. Unlike Blair and the New Labour tops, the trade union leadership is compelled to reflect, or partially reflect, the pressure of the trade unions' working class base.
HOWEVER, IT would be fatal for workers and trade unionists to place unqualified trust in UNISON leader Dave Prentis, or Bill Morris of the TGWU or John Edmonds of the GMB, who do not match words with action.
Indeed, seeking to reassure the bosses, Edmonds wrote in the Financial Times: "Already health service unions have been asked whether we are prepared to take industrial action. The question is old-fashioned and inappropriate. This is primarily a political row and not an industrial dispute".
Clearly, the union leaders envisage a mere propaganda campaign with very little action. The government is already throwing them a few bones hoping they will satisfy workers threatened with privatisation.
When they are 'TUPEd' (Transfer of Undertakings and Protection of Employment) then it is suggested the rights they enjoy in the NHS or with local education authorities would still exist.
However, such agreements, in the long term, are not worth the paper they are written on. Inevitably workers will see their rights and conditions systematically undermined.
By pacifying, with the help of the trade union leaders, these workers in industries with paper concessions, the government hopes to dissipate the anger.
It's true that services will not be privatised wholesale. But, as has already happened, big business will cherrypick the most profitable parts leaving the state to bail out the rest.
Moreover, urged on by journals like The Independent, a counteroffensive justifying PFI and other privatisation schemes is being prepared.
This newspaper concedes: "The results of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) have been disappointing to date"; then unbelievably concludes: "This could be because it has not gone far enough"!
This is like a surgeon who diagnoses cancer but then thinks it hasn't gone far enough before concluding it is a danger to the patient.
Ask the people of Wyre Forest, who voted solidly to turn out a New Labour creature and elect a retired doctor in his place. Ask the people of Cumbria, about their infirmary in Carlisle, opened by Blair which within a week was collapsing.
PFI is also a massive financial imposition on future generations, paid for by us, the taxpayers, so the vultures in private health can grow even fatter. In Cumbria, its already defective hospital will cost £500 million over 30 years: "For a ramshackle building which would have cost £67 million if Blair and Brown had kept it in the public sector" [Nick Cohen, Observer, 10 June].
The case against privatisation is contained within literally thousands of pages in research papers and documents piling up in public-sector unions' headquarters. But, it's time to proceed beyond words to deeds. From below, already there is a struggle against privatisation, with little or no support from national trade union leaders.
ONE problem that workers come up against is the vicious Thatcherite anti-trade union legislation which Blair has preserved virtually intact.
Even a strike against privatisation 'legally' and formally is against the law because it is 'political'. That's why railworkers are compelled to use the device of strikes on the grounds of 'health and safety'.
It is time to stop prevaricating. The trade union leaders must be forced by mass pressure to come off the fence. The full resources and power of the unions must be used to prevent privatisation through industrial action if necessary.
This must be accompanied by a massive propaganda programme to reinforce the case opposing privatisation amongst the public.
Mass demonstrations, propaganda campaigns, pamphlets and leaflets all have their place. But this government will only be stopped by action as the railway guards and postal workers have shown in action, with at least partial success recently.
A poll from the Rowntree Reform Trust showed that 81% said the British people had the right to resort to protests and blockades "if governments do not listen".
It is true, as Monks indicated, that some in the government, probably led by Blair, are looking to "take on" a public-sector trade union and defeat them in the same way as Thatcher did the miners.
Obscenely, he has been supported by a 'trade union leader', the AEEU's Ken Jackson, who called for the outlawing of strikes in the public sector. However, such threats will come to nothing if the power of the unions through action is unleashed.
This government is in a minority on privatisation. The unions and the working class have the majority with them. It is necessary to prepare action to prevent this backward, reactionary government turning back the clock and subjecting the working class to the conditions of the past.