Year 2001 No. 46, March 12, 2001
Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :
Tony Blair Omits to Refer to the Scottish Nation or to the Working Class
Shifting Arguments to Ensure the Labour Party Remains in Power
Tony Blair Jeered by Scottish Fishermen
Rally in Sunderland Demands Increase in Minimum Wage and an End to Low Pay
Interview with Sean Kelly, Communications Officer UNISON, Sunderland City Government Branch
News In Brief
London Underground Workers Vote for Strikes
Unions and Management at Vauxhall Reach Deal
Teachers Unions Unite to Call for Better Pay and Conditions
Millions of Londoners Live on Nuclear Waste Routes
Dangers of Wider Terrorism Act
Daily On Line Newspaper of the
Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
170, Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2LA. Phone 020 7627 0599
Web Site: http://www.rcpbml.org.uk
Subscription Rates (Cheques made payable to Workers' Publication Centre):
Workers' Weekly Printed Edition:
70p per issue, £2.70 for 4 issues, £17 for 26 issues, £32 for 52 issues (including postage)
Workers' Daily Internet Edition sent by e-mail daily (Text e-mail):
1 issue free, 6 months £5, Yearly £10
The theme of Tony Blair's speech to the Scottish Labour Party conference in Inverness on March 9 was that the Labour Party must "fight and win" for his vision of the future of Britain. He told the annual conference that it would take two terms of office "at least" to build the Britain that New Labour had promised.
There was also a subtext to Tony Blair's speech. This was to play down any conception of the Scots as a nation, as well as to imply that any force which stands for Scottish independence and speaks of the interests of Scotland is a hypocritical, anti-radical, anti-progressive force. This was in contrast to his speech in Wales where Tony Blair had spoken of the Welsh nation shaping its own destiny. What this signifies is that Tony Blair calculates that he can utilise the emergent movement for Welsh self-government in favour of the Labour Party coming to power, while the sense of Scottish identity which has been further consolidated by the formation of the Scottish Parliament is exactly the opposite at this time. This is a cynical and self-serving calculation by Tony Blair on behalf of the English bourgeoisie.
In this context, Tony Blair emphasised the contributions to the so-called "modernising" of the Labour Party which were connected with Scotland. According to the Prime Minister, "Scotland led the way in changing the old Clause IV", and in establishing the Scottish Parliament, the Labour Party was honouring a debt to the memory of the late John Smith.
Tony Blair is far from being progressive and broad-minded. He and his party are stuck in the old 19th century conceptions of political parties and party rule. So far from being modern is Tony Blair that he has taken the emasculation of the objective significance of Labour Party history to a fine art. It is very evident that the Labour Party, and before it, the Labour Representation Committee, were founded in order that organised labour should have a voice in a parliament that was plainly anti-working-class. Whatever one's critique of this step might be, this is an historical fact. Tony Blair is so dogmatic and hide-bound that he will not even discuss the role of the working class.
In his speech in Scotland, Tony Blair wants to say that today's Labour Party is completing the implementation of the programme that the Labour Party of more than 100 years ago put forward. If the issue was simply, in Tony Blair's words, "social justice", a "fairer society", the "crusade against poverty", then what is the meaning of "labour" in its founding name? The issue to those fighting for progress and a new society today is, firstly, that the interests of labour have still to be defended, and the discussion can be open as to how their voice should be heard in parliament. Secondly, for discussion to take place on the direction for the working class has never been more crucial than it is today, when the programme of the working class for a new society must become the burning topic of political discussion.
But Tony Blair will not allow either that the working class enters the equation or that the Scottish nation must shape its own destiny.
WDIE firmly denounces Tony Blair for his anti-working class stand, and his stand against the project of the Welsh and Scottish peoples to shape their own destinies. Workers must clearly get organised in order to counter all the manoeuvres to keep them at the margins of the entire field of political affairs, especially in this period prior to a General Election. Furthmore, they must reaffirm their national project to end the centuries-old injustice of the subjugation of the Welsh and Scottish nations, as well as to affirm the rights of the English, so as to counter the "Third Way" programme which aims to make the devolved Assembly and Parliament a block to these aspirations, and continues to insist that the electorate should subordinate themselves to the aims of the Labour Party.
At the Labour Party's Scottish conference in Inverness on March 9, Tony Blair set out Labour's stall as a party that would fight the election as "the party of economic competence".
Tony Blair has shifted his argument from one which said that Labour had taken over the mantle of "economic competence" from the Conservative Party, which it had had in the 1980s. This argument had stated that while the Labour Party had always been the party of the heart, or "social justice", the Tories had been the party of the head, or "economic competence", their main problem being one of neglect of the economy, the "new right" position of letting the dictates of the "free market" hold sway. The praise of Thatcherism has been swept under the carpet, and Tony Blair now tells us that "the Tories never were the party of economic competence" and that "if they got their hands on the economy again, it would be a disaster for Britain". As if the "Third Way" programme was not a reactionary programme that proceeds to intensify the neo-liberal agenda, but with a supposedly caring, human face, one that itself is causing disaster by blocking the way to progress and keeping the working class marginalised from political life!
The aim, in one sense, is for the Labour Party to win the battle in the "beauty contest" stakes. But the working class and progressive people must be clear that whereas in 1997, the bourgeoisie brought the Labour Party to power by means of an electoral coup, they now wish to keep it in power by means of a confidence trick against the electorate.
The shifting arguments extend, for example, to the "spending limits" of the first two years of the Labour government. According to Tony Blair, no decision was tougher than that of sticking to "tough spending limits for the first two years". This, according to his speech, was "holding back on putting the money where it needs to go" in order to "sort the economy first". If sticking to the spending limits which had been defined by the Tory Party is sorting out the economy, what grounds are there then for attacking the Conservatives for economic incompetence? The point, of course, is not to defend the Tory Party, but to point out that the "choices" which the Party system is presenting the electorate are quite fraudulent, and have nothing to do with representing the will of the people in parliament. Not only does the electorate have no say in deciding on the candidates, but the people are being presented with party programmes which present no alternative to the neo-liberal agenda.
Tony Blair does not openly discuss the programme which the Labour Party is following. Instead, he asserts that the Labour Party is always on the side of "the people we serve" in their struggles. The political process which keeps the working class and people marginalised does not permit that the programme to open the door to society should be hammered out amongst the people, but that all is subordinate to party government which makes parliament a rubber stamp for the decisions of the executive. Through asserting "we are getting there", vote for us, Tony Blair is, through trying to justify why the people should hand over the "tough choices" to the Labour Party, actually asserting the primacy of policy objectives and intensifying the crisis of the system of "representative democracy".
This is not "honouring the struggle". It is "winning the trust" of the people under false pretences.
WDIE holds that the working class and people must first and foremost trust their own strength. It is attempting to pull the wool over the electorate's eyes to suggest that they should put their trust in the Labour Party, or any of the parties which seek to come to power as parties of vested interests. The working class and people must honour their own struggles by refusing to hand them over to the political parties at election time. These parties which vye for the people's vote in order to come to power are the ones which have brought the prestige of politics so low that people have become cynical about politics and politicians and are reluctant to participate in politics on their own account. The working class and people must utilise the election period in order to build up their own forces, discuss the political programme which will lead society out of the crisis, and raise the whole question which Tony Blair through his shifting arguments tries to erase, namely: who decides?
Tony Blair found himself jeered by Scottish fishermen as he left the Scottish Labour spring conference in Inverness.
The Scottish Executive suffered its first ever defeat over the fishing ban off Scotland. The fishing industry is demanding a compensated tie-up scheme. The Prime Minister made only a passing reference to the fishing industry in his speech, saying that "our fishermen" are "having to make sacrifices in order to maintain their industry. I know there is real pain out there. That's why we are trying to help." Meanwhile, the Scottish parliament is demanding of the Executive that is provides compensation for fishermen who have voluntarily tied up their boats to conserve stocks in the North Sea.
As Tony Blair left the Scottish Labour Party conference, he was booed by a group of around 20 fishermen carrying banners with such slogans as "Save Our Stocks", "Save Our Fishing Industry", and "Brankin is the Blair Witch". Rhona Brankin is the Scottish fisheries minister. One skipper from Lossiemouth asked, "What is the Parliament for if it can't listen to the people?" Duncan Grey said that he thought between 500 and 700 fishermen would have travelled to Inverness had it not been for a fishing industry meeting taking place that day in Peterhead.
On Saturday, March 10, about 200 people, mostly youth, took part in a rally and music event in Sunderlands Mowbray Park. The days events were organised by City of Sunderland UNISON under the title "Campaign For a Decent Minimum Wage Low Pay No Way!" At midday Sean Kelly from UNISON introduced the band Mossy Rocks from a local college, who played to those gathered for about 45 minutes. There then followed a short rally.
Bill Etherington, MP for Sunderland North, attempted to defend the governments record on the setting of the minimum wage and on low pay by saying that over the last four years of the Labour government, "there has been a bigger distribution of resources towards various classes of poor people than we will ever see in any other equivalent period in history". However, he found it hard to square this extraordinary claim with one which he had expressed earlier when he had pointed out that "for far too long in this country we have had a problem of a low wage economy and it is no coincidence that the only major country that has a disparity in earnings as large as the United Kingdom is the United States of America". He then went on to suggest later in his speech that the proposed uprating of the minimum wage to £4.10 in October by the government was not nearly enough. He concluded by saying that the "only way things have been put right is by people campaigning and fighting to get those things put right".
Yunus Baksh, National Executive Committee Member of UNISON, explained that the four years of New Labour had markedly continued the divide between rich and poor that had been carried on from the previous Conservative government. He remarked that the question of poverty is something important. "This week has been a report that indicates that 5 million people in Britian live below the European poverty line, and that is defined as lack of food, lack of safe drinking water, lack of sanitation facilities, health, shelter and education. Nine percent of the population of this country, one of the richest countries in the world, say they lack basic amenities. They haven't got enough money to be able to live. Now that isn't an accident, it is not something we can't change, it is something that is deliberate." Commenting on this situation he later on said that people want to see a real commitment to the ending of poverty in this country. "And that doesn't mean tinkering with the system. That means challenging the rich and the powerful who run this country, and it isn't a question of putting pressure on other people. It is about doing it for ourselves. That is the difference." He concluded by saying that the union will fight on the minimum wage and against low pay.
Sasha Strike, UNISON National Young Members Forum, spoke for the youth and everyone when she said, "People should not be expected to live in poverty in this day and age. This is the 21st century, and we should not be living like in the Victorian ages. We are supposed to be moving on." She condemned the governments continuing discrimination against young workers in this country. She said that this was despite reports by the low pay commission which stated that the minimum wage should be raised to the adult rate and that there should be no difference. She spoke about the conditions among young workers and young mothers, and concluded that the campaign on the minimum wage must be kept going.
Steve Cannon of NATFHE at the University of Sunderland was the final speaker to address the rally. He spoke about the massive cuts at Sunderland University and part of that, he said, appeared to be a deliberate downsizing of the University. He spoke about the whole move by New Labour to turn these higher institutions into corporations answerable to shareholders and focusing almost exclusively on subjects like business studies. He pointed out that New Labour is employing the same two-tier logic from schools, that will see elite institutions and "bog standard" institutions, to universities and colleges. He said that is what they want in Sunderland a "bog standard" polytechnic and have local kids churned out to go and fill the jobs in the call centres and other modern white-collar sweat shops. He said in conclusion that they were waging a struggle to defend the education service and to defend jobs.
After the rally another band Solorico concluded the event.
WDIE: Can you speak about the Minimum Wage campaign in Sunderland?
Sean Kelly: Yes. In 1999 the union activists did a lot of work for the National Minimum Wage Demonstration in Newcastle. Two coaches went from Sunderland to the 30,000-strong demonstration in Newcastle in April, 1999. It brought lots of people together and made them realise how important it was to campaign for a living wage. This created the situation that a lot of people wanted to continue the campaign. This is also preparatory work for next National Minimum Wage Demonstration in Manchester on April 28.
WDIE: There are a lot of youth here today. Can you comment on that?
Sean Kelly: You are right. The minimum wage is an important campaign for the youth. As you know, the youth are expected to work for less than the national minimum wage. The legislation discriminates against the youth because of their age. In the present debate on the uprating of the minimum wage, no mention had been made of the youth rate. We have a new Youth Officer and it is good that they coming to events like this.
WDIE: What is the new rate being talked about?
Sean Kelly: It is £4.10 an hour, but it will not be paid until October 2001. The rate should now be raised to nearer £6.00 an hour without age exemption, and it is important to note that there is no mechanism for the uprating of the minimum wage at all. It is only as a result of the national minimum wage campaign that the government is now forced to discuss it.
WDIE: Can you speak about the low pay issue among local council workers?
Sean Kelly: Yes. A lot of council workers are paid below £5 per hour. For this reason the Local Government section of UNISON has put forward a pay demand this year for a flat increase of £1,000 for all staff. This would mean that the wages of all council workers would be brought to over £5 per hour. However, the employers have offered only 3% and the talks have presently broken down.
It was announced on March 8 that London Underground workers are to strike on March 29. The 7,500 members workers are taking a stand over the future safety and job security of London Underground under the threatened Public Private Partnership (PPP). The workers belonging to the RMT union declared their support for action by 11-1 in contrast to 9-1 support in the last ballot. The previous ballot result was ruled invalid by the High Court. The last one-day ASLEF strike on the Tube caused massive disruption in London with traffic congestion and buses under pressure.
Unions and management at Vauxhalls car-assembly plant at Luton announced on March 8 that an agreement had been reached to end the dispute over the threatened loss of 2,000 jobs. Workers struck work for a day in January in protest over the decision to close the plant.
The Transport and General Workers' Union said workers and management would collaborate to demand General Motors defend production at the neighbouring IBC plant until the end of 2004. Vauxhall expressed confidence that there would be no compulsory redundancies at Luton.
GM's European vehicle output was cut by 12 percent when almost 30,000 workers across Europe walked out on January 25 in opposition to the planned closure of the Luton plant.
Four unions representing the majority of England and Wales' half a million teachers have united in the struggle for better pay and conditions and threatened industrial action to impose a 35-hour maximum working week unless demands are met.
The National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and Welsh union UCAC aim to put an identical motion to their annual conferences later this year. The motion calls for an independent inquiry into pay and conditions and threatens work-to-rule.
Teachers have criticised the government's "complacent" attitude to teacher shortages and its refusal to consider a 35-hour maximum working week, as has been offered to Scottish teachers after a similar review by the Scottish Executive. The motion criticises the government and the School Teachers Review Body, which is responsible for advising ministers on pay and conditions, for their "repeated failure to take effective action to remove the excessive workload which makes unreasonable and unacceptable demands on teachers". Education Secretary David Blunkett is also criticised for saying a weekly hours limit would be "unworkable". As well as the 35-hour cut-off, the unions demand classroom teaching time be limited to 22-and-a-half hours a week, a simpler pay scale to allow the majority of teachers to attain a salary of £35,000, and guaranteed preparation and marking time of at least seven-and-a-half hours a week. The unions say they will take "effective action, short of strike action, initially to limit teachers' working time to no more than 35 hours a week" if the government refuses to set up an inquiry. Unions also dismissed David Blunkett's call to enter a "partnership" to tackle the problem.
An investigation by the Greater London Authority has revealed that millions of Londoners live only a few yards away from the routes travelled by trains transporting highly radioactive nuclear waste.
Three trains every week each carry up to 40 radioactive rods from three power stations en route to the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria. The trains travel north to Sellafield because of a lack of large storage facilities at the reactor sites. Two, from Sizewell and Bradwell power stations, pass through Romford, Ilford, Stratford, Hackney, Islington, Camden and West Hampstead before reaching sidings in Willesden. Once there, their cargos are sometimes combined with a third transported from Dungeness Power Station. That train travels through Bromley, Lewisham, Peckham, Brixton, Battersea, West Brompton, West Kensington and Shepherd's Bush. From Willesden, the trains pass northwards through Brent and Harrow.
London CND spokesperson Lionel Trippet said, "These rods are absolutely lethal because they are intensely radioactive. Anyone who comes into contact with them would suffer radiation burns and risk getting cancers, such as thyroid cancer. This stuff doesn't have to spend weeks going around our railway system."
Direct Rail Services, the BNFL subsidiary which transports the waste, defended its safety record and said the transportation was subject to rigorous tests.
The GLA committee undertaking the inquiry into the safety of this traffic is to consult with a number of organisations including BNFL, Railtrack and community groups, and hold an evidence-gathering session on May 9. It will publish its final report in the summer.
The following letter from John Wadham, Director of Liberty, was published in The Times, on March 8.
The Home Secretary has used for the first time a key provision of one of this Government's most dangerous pieces of legislation the new Terrorism Act. He used his power to "proscribe" a number of foreign political groups. This means that membership (even professed membership) of those groups becomes a criminal offence.
Banning organisations and criminalising membership is a serious attack on the basic rights of free speech and free assembly. If people involved in organisations commit offences, they can be arrested and prosecuted under the existing law. If there is no evidence, guilt by association is wrong in principle. The Act extends the definition of "terrorism" so widely that it encompasses even those suspected of being involved in destroying GM crops.
It is now a criminal offence to help to organise a meeting which will be addressed by someone who professes to belong to a proscribed organisation. The person does not have to be an actual member of the organisation; at the meeting he or she need not talk about the organisation at all, could oppose the activities of the organisation, could advocate non-violence or, indeed, could talk instead about his or her favourite recipes. The maximum penalty for all these "offences" is ten years in prison.
This is a law supported by a Government that professes commimmitment to human rights, and passed by a Parliament which is supposed to protect us from draconian laws.
RCPB(ML) Home Page
Workers' Daily Internet Edition Index Page