Issue 240 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review


Build the resistance

A Labour government prostrate and powerless before the might of the market. The spectacle is not new. Crises over devaluation and cuts have hit every Labour government, as the real power in society--those who control big business and the finance markets--tell the elected government what to do. It is a particularly bitter and brutal irony that this Labour government is more wedded to supporting big business than any other, but may well find itself presiding over a further massive decline in manufacturing industry--at the whim of the market. A government which has repeatedly refused to intervene now finds itself politically powerless.

The decision by BMW to pull out of Longbridge and sell it off to the asset stripper Alchemy has produced the latest crisis for Blair. The government fumes and rages but has not a single idea of what to do about it. Labour, with its huge Commons majority and with the popular will of the mass of people behind it, could launch a campaign to save the car industry, protect the thousands of jobs and preserve the communities that will be decimated if Longbridge closes.

It could nationalise the plant and run it for the benefit of working people. Nationalisation is supposed to be a dirty word; we are told that there can be no state subsidy. Yet Labour minister Steven Byers has promised a subsidy to BAe--the company which sold Rover to BMW in the first place--to develop a new jumbo jet. He could find money for Rover. But that would mean challenging the workings of the market, it would mean standing up even a tiny bit against the bosses and it is not, therefore, going to happen from this Labour government unless it is forced to by pressure from below.

We have already seen this devastation with the pits under the Tories in 1992. Today there are threats to other car factories such as Ford Dagenham, to the steel industry and to shipyards such as Harland and Wolff. The problems may only be beginning for a government which says it cannot buck the markets and which expects us to pay in terms of jobs and livelihoods.

No wonder the political disaffection with the Blair government is growing. The collapse of Labour's vote in the Ayr by-election, the effective strike of Labour members in London in the mayoral election and the huge support for Ken Livingstone despite the attacks on him by the Blairites are all indications of how great this has become.

Livingstone in particular has become a focus for the left. But there has also been wide support for the London Socialist Alliance among Labour and non-Labour members alike. Frank Dobson's candidacy--forced on Labour members against their wishes--is looking a dead duck and has caused civil war in the party.

Fear that its 'heartlands' are deserting it has led the government to make cosmetic promises and to claim the budget is redistributive. But it does not alleviate the basic poverty of pensioners or single parents (who will in fact be worse off over the coming year).

Spending on the NHS comes with strings attached--when Blair talks of the need for modernisation in the health service, everyone knows this means attacks on those who work there. On top of this comes 'welfare to work', attacks on 'benefits cheats', 'aggressive' beggars and the continuing programme of PFI which show that Blair and Brown have no intention of ditching many of their most unpopular policies.

Yet this is exactly where the New Labour government may come unstuck. For as it continues its relentless shift right, so too is it forcing many people to look to an alternative.

This explains the growing popularity of the London Socialist Alliance and the campaign around Livingstone. It also explains why the decision by BMW to shut Longbridge has been met by a call from the stewards to build a mass march that forces the government to protect the jobs that are under threat. Strikes and occupations would force a retreat from government and employers. It would also stop the asset stripping. Socialists should argue for this sort of strategy. More and more people are beginning to realise that the only way to stop the free market polices of the Blair government is to organise and resist them every inch of the way.

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