Issue 249 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
These are exciting times for socialists. The opening of the year has marked a turning point. Just as Peter Mandelson, the architect of Blairism, has been forced out of the cabinet in disgrace, so the effects of Blairite policies have produced a new wave of anger and militancy inside the working class. Campaigns, strikes and demonstrations around a range of issues threaten to create a much bigger opposition than any government has seen. Underlying all of them is a rejection of the neoliberal policies and attacks on workers with which Mandelson and Blair are so identified.
The man most linked with the worst aspects of New Labour has gone from the government. His involvement with rich businessmen brought the second major scandal in just over two years. Whereas his friend Tony Blair made sure he was rehabilitated last time, the second time around it was Blair and his press secretary, Alastair Campbell, who pushed Mandelson out, fearful that his taint would damage the whole government.
But this is not the first or last scandal in which Blair and his friends will be involved. The whole rationale of New Labour was to create a party which turned its back on working class people and their organisations, the trade unions. Instead Blair and Mandelson wanted a party which appealed to big business--Tony Blair said only recently that he was proud to receive donations from rich supporters--and which allowed big business its freedom to make profits. Only this, it was argued, could expand the economy and so help the poor as well as the rich.
We have the logical conclusion in Mandelson’s help to the Hinduja brothers. They were aided in every way on the grounds that a tiny fraction of their wealth would trickle down to the rest of us. It did not.
The joy at Mandelson’s departure is that it is seen as a defeat for the Blair project. It comes too at a time when the working class movement is beginning to move again. The two issues are of course connected. The commitment to the interests and methods of global capital, the enthusiasm for privatisation, the presiding of a Labour government over growing inequality and poverty, have produced a highly political opposition which is now determined to act regardless of the proximity of the election.
There is a growing feeling that workers will have to fight regardless of the wishes of their bosses or the shackles of the trade union laws. That is why we have seen completely illegal strikes such as the 'stayaway’ at Vauxhall Luton, and why there is growing militant strike action across Britain. People are also beginning to make connections--the Vauxhall strike was part of a Europe-wide action against General Motors, a strike without borders. The anti-capitalist protests against global attacks on workers have also had their influence. And a highly political and important minority of workers is beginning to break with Labourism to the left--witness the success of the Socialist Alliances around the country.
There is the beginning of a fightback. How it will develop is impossible to say, but it already presents more opportunities for socialists than for many years. Because of the political character of the movement, and the attacks facing workers and the poor throughout the world, people are looking for answers in a way they have not done for many years. Socialists can help provide practical solutions and answers to build the fightback in every area. We also have a set of ideas which can help explain the world. The test for us is to use both our ideas and activity to help take the movement forward.