Over the 13 years since Tony Blair was elected leader of the Labour Party, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty has, in our publications, analysed, explained and agitated against the politics of New Labour.
John Smith dies
(Socialist Organiser, 19 May 1994)
Many commentators have pointed to the “modernity” of John Smith’s leadership. In fact, John Smith’s political career and beliefs places him in a tradition of middle-class progressivism which dates back to the aftermath of World War One.
Smith can be seen as following in the footsteps trod by many members of a privileged, slightly guilt-ridden liberal elite who saw the labour movement as their natural home.
Socialism to this elite was an ethical quest rather than a movement to achieve working-class self-emancipation.
Blair becomes Labour leader
(Socialist Organiser, 28 July 1994)
The election of Tony Blair as leader of the Labour Party is bad news for the left. On the day his victory was announced, Blair rushed to declare that there would be no “favours” for the trade unions from the next Labour government.
Another sign of what to expect from Blair was his intervention into the field of Tory cant about “family values” and “back to basics”. He said that he disapproves of people choosing to become single parents.
Tens of thousands of working-class people have been deluded into believing the media claptrap that “only Blair can beat the Tories”, but the reality is this: if Labour wins the next election, it will be despite Tony Blair, not because of him.
If Labour wins the next election and Blair becomes prime minister, then battles will open up in the labour movement, sooner or later.
Labour wins, Bank of England made independent
(Welfare State Network Action, 24 May 1997)
The Blair-Brown regime’s first big move was not to restore the Health Service or unshackle the trade unions, but to hand over central levers of economic power to unelected officials. The Bank of England will set interest rates, which affect almost all other economic variables. The reshaped governing body of the Bank “will be drawn widely from industry, commerce and finance”, that is, from diverse layers of the capitalist class. No one will elect them.
Gordon Brown has no democratic mandate for his move. He said nothing about it before the election. The Labour Party has never debated it.
Often before this bankers have pushed around elected governments. Now the government has openly declared in advance that it will let the bankers run the show.
Cuts to single parent benefit
(Workers’ Liberty, January 1998)
The most important political event in the labour movement since the General Election is the revolt of 61 Labour MPs on 10 December against the government decision to cut benefits for single parents.
Not only Blair’s arrogance, but also the very core of his policy, is driving him to provoke further rebellions. The Blair faction’s flaunting of their deeply Tory ethos and their smug middle-class disdain for the concerns and traditions of the labour movement will force the pace.
Blair can be stopped. A bold campaign for all-out acceptance of the principles of social solidarity, for full-scale restoration of health care and welfare, could rally millions. It could bring those who, from anti-Toryism, have gone along with Kinnock, Smith and Blair, to a realisation that right now the main enemies of the labour movement are the Tories within its own institutions!
The lunatic politics of asylum
(Action for Solidarity, 7 July 2000)
Jack Straw and [then Tory leader] William Hague are playing a game of poker at the expense of asylum-seekers. As soon as one of them demands tougher rules against asylum-seekers the other bids even higher and demands even worse restrictions and rules.
This is a dirty, vicious game, in which asylum-seekers are vilified and in which British mainstream politics is turned into a sewer.
It is a game in which asylum-seekers can only lose. If they work they take jobs from British workers; if they do not work they are beggars and scroungers.
If an asylum-seeker’s claim is rejected they must be bogus; if asylum-seekers are accepted the system is allowing too many in.
The witch-hunting of asylum-seekers has been one of the most disgraceful aspects of New Labour’s record in power. The British labour movement must stand up to the government and the Tory bigots.
Bosses buy New Labour
(Action for Solidarity, 23 March 2001)
THE Keith Vaz corruption scandal shows how New Labour aligns with the rich and powerful.
In office, the Tories swamin sleaze and corruption like rats having a good time with shit in a sewer; out of office they play the anti-corruption card.
Out of office, New Labour’s denunciations of Tory corruption helped bring down the Tory government; in office, the Blairites take money for favours from rich men like Bernie Ecclestone.
New Labour openly, even proudly, aligns with the rich and powerful against the labour movement.
It accepts their goals, their priorities, their moralities. Both politically and personally they adopt the attitudes of fawning fans and servants to the very rich.
The Blairites have turned New Labour into an organic part of the Old Corruption, into a money-grubbing agency of the rich.
Vote Socialist Alliance!
(Action for Solidarity, May 2001)
Many people who voted Labour in 1997 will feel that voting for the same party again in 2001 will not change anything. Yet millions of people will still vote Labour. That is understandable. None of us wants to let a very right-wing Tory party get back into government. As long as New Labour retains its links to the trade unions and our choice is limited to the major parties, voting Labour is positively the right thing to do. However, in this election, there will be a working-class alternative to the big business parties.
Although little can be achieved by voting alone, voting for a working-class candidate, such as those in the Socialist Alliance, is a step on the road to change.
Riots in Oldham and Burnley — jobs, homes and services for all!
(Action for Solidarity, 6 July 2001)
YOU would not know it from most of the media reports, but in both Oldham and Burnley the recent violence was deliberately provoked by white racists.
The shocking votes for the BNP in the area have acted as a catalyst for the violence — but they are a symptom of the underlying problem, not the cause.
Both councils and the Government have buried their heads in the sand.
To truly beat the racists will take a political approach. To give the Asian youth who have been fighting back a strategy, we need a united working-class response to poverty, unemployment and declining services as well as to racist attacks.
Much of the BNP’s support was passive. The left and the labour movement must real out to these people — and offer them hope.
We need a campaign with class at its centre - that fights against racism in all its forms, and for jobs, homes and services for all.
The firefighters can win!
(Solidarity, 13 December 2002)
Twenty thousand people marched through London on a bitterly cold day on Saturday 7 December to show their support for the firefighters. Many were firefighters. Banners and contingents were there from all areas of the labour movement.
The sea of waving yellow and red flags at the rally in Hyde Park suggested flickering flames that symbolised both the day to day work of the firefighter and the reigniting of real trade unionism in Britain.
Reports suggest the Government is as determined as ever to prevent any settlement by the firefighters that would give them even a limited victory and thus encourage a continuing revival of trade union militancy.
Victory or defeat for the firefighters will affect the entire labour movement. It is of vital interest to every trade unionist in Britain.
Solidarity action will make the difference. The trade union leaders cannot be relied upon to organise solidarity. That must come from the rank and file of the unions.
No to Saddam Hussein!
No to war!
(Solidarity, 6 February 2003)
IF the war led to freedom for the people of Iraq, you might argue that it would have been worth anything but the most colossal number of casualties. But we can’t know how colossal that number will be.
Who is prepared to gamble with untold thousands of Iraqi lives in the hope that all will be well that ends well?
Who is prepared to lay bets on the other incalculable consequences of war? On whether Ariel Sharon will use it to expel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank? On the boost militant political Islam, from Pakistan to Egypt, will get?
On whether the US will roll on, like a drunk, from whatever success it has in Iraq to the next location for its “war on terror”?
The liberation of the Iraqi people can only be the act of the Iraqi people themselves. Any genuine popular movement will find that Bush and Blair are its mortal enemies.
Labour expels the RMT
(Special bulletin, February 2004)
The Labour Party will expel the RMT on 7 February unless it revokes its decision to allow Scottish RMT branches to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party.
At Labour’s National Executive on 27 January all but three delegates — Mark Seddon, Christine Shawcroft and the RMT's Mick Cash — voted for expulsion.
From the Blairite point of view, they cannot let the RMT get away with this. They do not want other unions to do as the RMT has done.
Once again the Blairites have shown how alien they are to the grass roots of the labour movement. They are a group of middle-class careerists, spin doctors, advisers and political fixers, most with no roots at all in the labour movement, who have hijacked the party which the trade unions founded. The RMT have done no more than stay loyal to the principles that motivated the union’s predecessor when it initiated the founding of the Labour Party in 1900.
Respect vs working-class politics
(Speech by Martin Thomas to Socialist Alliance conference, reprinted in Solidarity, 18 March 2004)
Respect is not democratic and not socialist. The ideas of common ownership, workers’ control, workers’ representatives on a worker’s wage, or workers’ representation of any sort, are missing from the platform. To move from the Socialist Alliance to Respect would be to lose a lot politically. And to gain what?
To gain George Galloway.
Galloway was never particularly left-wing in the Labour Party. He did not join the Campaign Group. He has said that his conception of the Respect coalition is to “unite socialists, liberals, and conservatives”.
He says he needs £150,000 a year to function. That shows his conception of politics.
Why does anyone think he is left-wing? Because of Iraq. But on Iraq Galloway was for ten years the main friend in Britain of Saddam’s dictatorship. In 1994 he “saluted” Saddam’s “courage and indefatigability”.
He visited Iraq almost once a month, to be a go-between between the Saddam regime and businessmen. He says he offered to be a go-between with the British government.
When accused of meeting an Iraqi secret policeman, he replied that he could not need to because he was on such close terms with top people in the regime. He had Christmas dinner with Tariq Aziz, for example.
The money for all this came, on Galloway’s own account, from the Saudis, the Emirates, and a businessman, Fawwaz Zureikat, linked with Saddam.
To link up with Galloway is to betray the Iraqi working class, and to give up — almost before we have started — on the work of building something in England comparable to the SSP and the LCR/LO in France.
Don’t give up on working-class politics. Vote to oppose Respect and to build the Socialist Alliance.
Fight for pensions!
(Solidarity, 17 March 2005)
ON 23 March, and maybe on 26 April, public sector workers will be striking against the New Labour government’s move to “level down” their pensions nearer to the misery already enforced in the private sector. [In fact the unions called off the strikes.]
The unions’ first concern is to defend existing provision. But the fight can and should be broader than that. The broader, the greater its chances of success even in its defensive aims.
The government’s move to “level down” public sector pensions towards private-sector levels is not an incidental whim, easily reversed with a little pressure.
The message of the new global free-market capitalism to us is: find some financial scheme or manoeuvre to save for retirement, and hope it doesn’t go bad as so many others have — or rot in poverty when you grow old.
The unions should fight this system, and for an alternative of democratic social provision.
They should fight for a workers’ government which will take all the pension funds into public ownership and put them under the democratic control of the workers who pay into them and the pensioners who depend on them.
Religious hatred bill: stand up for free speech
(Solidarity, 23 June 2005)
On the evening of Tuesday 21 June, the Government’s proposals to outlaw “incitement to religious hatred” passed the House of Commons with a majority of 57.
The backbench Labour rebellion was almost non-existent — John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn were the honourable exceptions.
Outlawing incitement to hatred on the basis of religious belief, as opposed to ethnicity, is a major attack on freedom of speech. It means extending the blasphemy laws which still, at least in theory, protect Anglican Christianity from rational public debate, to shield all religions with authoritarian impartiality.
The bill is partly a cynical pitch to win back Muslim voters outraged by Blair’s warmongering and erosion of civil liberties (like the expansion of state funding for faith schools, and defence of the hijab) and partly the brainchild of a Prime Minister with a lot of respect for religious superstition and very little for human rights.
It is a disgrace that the Labour and trade union left (to say nothing of most activist left groups) have failed to oppose this law. Socialists must not only continue to fight the “religious incitement” bill, but demand the abolition of all blasphemy laws without exception.
Blair hosts the G8 summit
(Solidarity, 7 July 2005)
Blair, Brown, and Mandelson want to make the capitalist market work better. They oppose socialism, or even “old Labour” schemes aiming severely to curtail and offset market imperatives.
But they also believe in the need for state action, judiciously targeted by themselves and their like, to get the capitalist market working well.
Whatever the details of what the G8 summit promises on debt and aid, it will do nothing to help the workers and small farmers in Africa. Blair and Brown are not even proposing that it do anything along those lines. The top celebrities in the Make Poverty History campaign are not asking for anything like that: instead, they have put together a petition from more than a hundred bankers and businessmen to the G8 backing their calls for more aid, debt relief, and trade liberalisation, measures which those capitalists reasonably hope will bring them more business and more profits.
What the workers and small farmers of Africa need, above all, is solidarity from the labour movement in Britain — solidarity that we will be ten times more able to give if we can defeat in Britain the same policies that Blair and Brown want the G8 to carry through internationally.
Good schools for all!
(Solidarity, 9 March 2006)
The publication of an Education White Paper last year commenced months of wrangling, negotiations and campaigning that has gone to the ideological heart of the Labour Party.
Comprehensive education — like the NHS — is one of the last remaining symbols of Labour’s reforming past. Some Labour members who weathered the removal of Clause Four, the continuation of Tory social policy and a string of unpopular military escapades have baulked at the prospect of this legacy being destroyed. Veteran Blairites like Fiona Millar have transformed themselves into vehement class-warriors at the prospect of the abolishment of comprehensive schools.
The main weakness of the internal party opposition — and importantly any likely rebellion - has been this focus on selection because by expunging these proposals from the Education Bill, Blair has potentially defused a large element of the rebel block. The main thrust of the Bill — marketisation through the creation of Trusts — remains intact.
To effectively oppose the Education Bill we must engage the wider labour movement in a grass-roots led campaign which involves teachers, parents and students against the Bill.
Labour: evict the fat cats!
(Solidarity, 9 March 2006)
Is Tessa Jowell guilty of personal corruption? She is not, it seems. But what a corrupt, vile bourgeois world this affair highlights — a world a million miles from the lives of working-class people.
Jowell is a “Labour” government minister. Her husband, David Mills, is an international lawyer. He specialises in helping rich people find loop holes in tax laws and any other laws they find inconvenient.
These people, having cut any political, moral, intellectual and emotional ties they had with the labour movement, have cut themselves adrift from the ethos and reason for being of the labour movement. They serve the rich.
The trade unions still have the weight and the power to clear out the pestilential swamp that Blair, Brown and their cronies have made of what was once the Labour Party — the party which despite its frequent and grave political failings, was the party of working people. It is time these venal and vile people, corrupt to the marrow of their bones even when they are not legally corrupt, were turned out of the labour movement. All of them!
The NHS in crisis
(Solidarity, 27 April 2006)
What lies behind the NHS crisis and the cuts? For a start it’s not money. A very few individual trusts have overspent; the overall debt is less than 1% of the national budget. Some trusts have produced surpluses of millions of pounds. The money is available and Blair and Hewitt could pay up. Instead they want to make an example of a few Chief Executives, at the cost of thousands of jobs, in order to make a political point. They want the NHS to be a business accountable to the market, not a public service accountable to staff and patients.
It’s not about “greedy staff”. The pay deals for doctors, nurses and other staff have had an effect on this year’s budget. But the problem is that the Department of Health got its figures wrong about how much it all would cost. Meanwhile nothing has been said about how these same greedy staff contribute thousands of hours every week in unpaid overtime.
The real reasons behind the crisis are the costs building up year in, year out through privatisation. Management costs are predicted to grow to 14% of the NHS budget as a result of introducing the internal market. This is the price of having to cost, code, log, invoice and pay for each treatment.
And Blair wants to speed up privatisation.
So when Patricia Hewitt turns up at Unison health conference and says the NHS has had its best year ever she means it. From her point of view, signing up for more PFI deals, getting more Independent (Private) Treatment Sectors, forcing through greater efficiency at the cost of staff health and welfare are all great successes.
The continuing existence of a public, free NHS is now at stake. We need to mobilise now!
Drive out Labour’s fat cat friends
(Solidarity, 7 February 2007)
The arrest last month of Labour Party fundraiser Lord Levy and Downing Street director of government relations Ruth Turner over the loans for peerages scandal has created a crisis for New Labour.
For a government that came to power at least in part as a result of revulsion at Tory sleaze, all this is deeply damaging. It may yet force Tony Blair into resigning.
But the affair highlights also deeper political, and social issues. The connection between corruption and the funding of the Labour Party by big business is not coincidental. Although the problem of sleaze is exacerbated by the particularly secretive, bureaucratic form of the British capitalist state, for instance the existence of a second chamber filled by party appointees, corruption is implied by the whole system of political parties funded by and doing the bidding of the rich.
The only real solution to the problem of political corruption is the forceful reinstatement of organised working-class politics, building a democratic labour movement counterweight to the politics of the rich.
Blair wants his legacy to be a final push to drive the British working class out of politics. The only adequate response is for the organised working class, and in the first place the unions, to take this opportunity to fight back, using their position in the Labour Party to fight Blairism and, if necessary, rally the forces for a new working-class party.
The union leaders we currently have show no sign of doing that. We need to make them fight, and be prepared to replace them if they will not do so.