Issue 251 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review


Time to rock the boat

Animal carcasses burning in the fields. A railway system which cannot guarantee safe and punctual journeys. Children sent home from school because of the teacher shortage. Hardly an auspicious background for an election, especially since many of the problems now facing the Blair government can be explained by the failure of the market. There is a sense of crisis pervading the government.

The four years of Labour government have been thrown away. The landslide majority has resulted in little real change. The rich have continued to get richer under Labour, while the poor suffer at least as much as they always have. Labour has proved at best to be a disappointment, at worst a disaster. Schools, hospitals and transport are, incredibly, in an even worse state than under the Tories.

On the horizon lies the threat of recession in the US. Already there is economic slowdown there, as workers are laid off. The collapse of 'new economy' shares in recent months presages further lay offs and closures. Any serious downturn in the US economy, especially coupled with recession in Japan, is bound to have major consequences in Britain. It is likely to mean further factory closures, cutbacks in investment and a rise in unemployment. The collapse in stocks and shares prices comes at a time when workers are virtually being compelled to put their faith in these markets to pay for their pensions and mortgages.

What will happen to Gordon Brown's 'war chest' when Treasury income falls and unemployment rises? A government which has refused to spend in years when the economy was expanding will be even more parsimonious, with terrible consequences for jobs and services.

But there is something unique and distinct about this election compared to those we've seen in the past. The growing anger with the government is coupled with an increased willingness by workers to fight back. Tube and post workers are already taking industrial action on a wide scale and are threatened with intimidation by management, government and the judges. Teachers are taking selective action against staff levels. Union leaders rarely go on about the need not to rock the boat--partly this is because Labour's lead in the polls means they have more leeway to force concessions, but more importantly even they can sense the anger that ordinary people feel against the government.

On top of this there are mobilisations both in Britain and internationally against the neoliberal policies followed by all major governments which are wrecking the lives of millions. There is no sign of this abating, even as the election approaches. With an election out of the way, and with the ruling class and government offensive set to continue, the sparks of resistance that we have already seen recently could well generalise to other sections of the working class.

Hence the importance of the Socialist Alliance challenge to Labour at the ballot box. Long term campaigner and former NEC member Liz Davies has now publicly broken with Labour and backed the Socialist Alliance. She represents much wider forces who have been the backbone of the Labour left but who are now sufficiently disillusioned to look elsewhere.

It is crucial that this is translated into votes for the Socialist Alliance at the election. This will make the Labour government less confident about going on the attack in the months ahead, and workers more confident to resist.

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