British Labor Bows in Subservience to Blair, War
Mohammad J Alam
alam.m at neu.edu
Sat Sep 14 09:58:21 MDT 2002
Interesting to see the marked difference of analysis between the World
Socialist Web Site [below] and In Defence of Marxism [www.marxist.com].
One is opposed to working with unions altogether and the other
announces doomsday every time there is a squeak or two in the 'labor
The annual conference of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) provided a
showcase for the type of sycophancy and cowardice one has come to
expect from Britain?s trade unions.
Throughout the previous week, the media had been forecasting a major
confrontation between the unions and Prime Minister Tony Blair over the
latter?s support for a US-led war against Iraq. News commentators
predicted that Blair would be walking into the ?lion?s den? when he
delivered his conference speech on September 10, and would receive a
Kittens would have caused more damage. Not only did the TUC give the
green light to war, it ensured Blair did not face even a peep of
opposition throughout his 36-minute address.
The prime minister?s trouble-free appearance was guaranteed when, just
one day before his speech, the ruling council mobilised three of the
four largest unions to defeat an amendment pledging the TUC to oppose
any war against Iraq.
Having failed to pressure the small rail union TSSA (Transport Salaried
Staffs Association) to withdraw its amendment, the executive
provocatively denounced the motion as tantamount to treachery, with
Roger Lyons, joint general secretary of the Amicus engineering union,
claiming it could have been drawn up ?by the trades council of Baghdad?.
When the amendment was initially passed on a show of hands, the
executive forced a formal card vote and the union bureaucracy fell
quickly into line. The block votes of the major unions?including the
TGWU (Transport and General Workers? Union), whose leader Bill Morris
had earlier told the conference ?read my lips, no war??ensured the
amendment was defeated.
Whilst the successful general council resolution declared its
?unambiguous opposition? to unilateral action against Iraq, and
expressed concern at the ?increasingly bellicose statements? made by
members of the Bush administration, it stipulated that military action
could be justified if it had UN authorisation and there was evidence
that the country was developing ?weapons of mass destruction?.
Interviewed on the BBC, TUC General Secretary John Monks made clear the
unions had no principled objections to a war. ?The TUC is not a
pacifist organisation and it has supported British forces on many, many
occasions,? Monks reminded the interviewer. Its concern was with the
?processes which are used. For example, is there evidence? Have the
weapons inspectors been allowed in? Are the United Nations involved??
TUC leaders fear that Blair?s support for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq
by the US could isolate Britain internationally, especially in Europe
where Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has denounced US plans and made
clear Germany will not participate. Under these conditions the TUC
considers UN authorisation desirable to provide the cover of
John Edmonds, leader of the GMB general union, spelt it out. The TUC
had sent a clear signal that if the prime minister stood alongside the
UN, he could expect the full support of the Labour Party and the trade
unions, he pledged.
But in his speech Tuesday, the prime minister made clear that whilst
the US and the UK would ask for UN support, they would go it alone if
necessary. The US and the UK would ?respond to challenges? to deal with
Iraq through the UN, Blair conceded, ?But if we do so, then the
challenge to all in the UN is this: the UN must be the way to resolve
the threat from Saddam, not a way of avoiding it.?
The prime minister also warned the TUC that if it persisted with
?self-indulgent? rhetoric, it would be the one to risk isolation as far
as the government was concerned.
Blair has the measure of the TUC. He knows that the Labour Party?s
abandonment of social reformism and its disassociation from the working
class would never have been possible without trade union backing.
Pledged to defend the interests of British capital, the TUC has been
instrumental in strangling workers? resistance to the constant
undermining of their pay and working conditions. Under Blair, the
unions have played a key role in enabling the government to cut public
spending and hold down wages, whilst ensuring industrial unrest has
been kept at a record low.
Blair reminded the TUC where its loyalties lie. Partnership between
government and the unions ?does far more good than a lot of
self-indulgent rhetoric from a few that belongs, quite frankly, in the
history books,? he told the conference.
Such self-indulgence would lead to ?less influence? with his
government, he warned. If the TUC cooperated, however, the government
would make sure there was room for its snout at the trough. Promising
government support for British entry into the single European currency,
the euro?a goal supported by most of the unions?Blair went on to praise
the TUC for its role in ensuring the smooth passage of Labour?s
workfare policies and promised to involve it in discussions with the
Confederation of British Industry over pension reform.
?I offer again a partnership on this basis. No prejudices. No
pre-conceptions. On either side.... My door is open to any union
leader,? the prime minister said.
This ensured the prime minister received a standing ovation from much
of the audience, with TUC President Sir Tony Young praising Blair for
his ?truly inspirational? remarks. ?You have shown the glass is half
full ... more than half full,? Young told Blair.
John Edmonds commented that the speech was ?beautifully crafted?.
?There were no indications that he wants to start a new love affair
with the unions, but perhaps there were signs that he might be prepared
to start a subtle courtship,? he said.
And what of the erstwhile ?lefts?, whom the petty-bourgeois radical
groups around the Socialist Alliance had backed for election, claiming
they represented a militant alternative to the union tops?
They either kept their mouths firmly shut, like Bob Crow of the RMT
rail union, whose only gesture of defiance was to remain seated for
Blair?s ovation; or, in the case of Derek Simpson, general
secretary-elect of Amicus, gushed about how happy he was that the prime
minister?s remarks ?fitted in with everything? he had been saying. [end
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