Issue 256 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review

News

Review

   

LABOUR CONFERENCE

Corporate conquest

Firm talk
Firm talk

A militant capitalist picket rings the Labour conference, supported by a rolling programme of pro-business rallies. The picket is a maze of some 200 corporate stalls that surround the conference hall. The rallies are the sponsored fringe meetings that fill the gaps between conference debates. Last year delegates had to first pass through the security cordon and then pass the double sized stall of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd before they could hear the managed debates in the main hall. At the time of going to press it is unclear whether BNFL still have this prime spot. However, they are certain to return, along with the banks, the privatisation contractors and the privatised utilities that lead the Plcs lobbying Labour. Railtrack asked its shareholders for the firm to spend 250,000--money largely raised through government subsidy--to woo MPs at the Labour and Tory conferences this year. The bulk of Railtrack's cash will be spent at Labour's Brighton event rather than frittered away on the Tories in Blackpool.

Lobbyists Citigate Westminster propose spending 100,000 on conference expenses--again most cash will be spent in Brighton, not Blackpool. Their clients include almost every rail operator. They also represent Enron, the American energy firm which has bought its way into New Labour's affections with its own regular donations to the party. Enron successfully broke Labour's embargo on gas-fired power stations--a policy which was meant to protect the country's remaining coal mines. This July three workers were burned to death in one of Enron's gas burning stations. Unions are not recognised at the plant.

Rail firm Arriva has also promised to return to the Labour conference this year. This March Labour's Strategic Rail Authority awarded Arriva a host of new rail franchises. By June the Health and Safety Executive wrote to Arriva and nine other rail firms warning them to take urgent action over the number of Signals Passed At Danger. Just two weeks before the Labour conference Arriva was forced to sack Nigel Patterson, the manager of Arriva Trains. The sacking came after Patterson was mauled by the Passenger Transport Authority because his firm had to cancel 2,000 rail services for lack of drivers. However, faced with a shortage of labour, the firm has decided to spend its money lobbying Labour instead of investing in staff. The corporate-sponsored meetings are staffed by suited lobbyists fuelled by power breakfasts of ice-cold orange juice and croissants. The real and readily available prize for the plc hopefuls is to get a minister on their platform.

This year 20 law firms, banks and builders formed the 'PPP Forum' to lobby for more privatisation. This pro-pfi front group is a mix of corporate backers, old Tories and new labour lobbyists--the by now traditional ingredients for the corporate conquest of Labour. While firms like Amec and Carillion supply the cash, the PPP Forum relies on Sir Tim Bell for political direction--Bell was once Thatcher's favourite adman. His PR firm, Bell Pottinger, has been hired by the PPP Forum. Bell needed more Labour links, so he has hired Howard Dawber--the failed Labour candidate for Cheadle--to handle the account. The PPP Forum itself has hired Cathy McGlynn, once Jack Cunningham's special adviser, to run the group. Brighton sees the forum's first success--Treasury minister Andrew Smith and AEEU boss Sir Ken Jackson are speaking at a breakfast meeting advertised as 'inside the security cordon' 'Making the Public Private Partnerships work for all'. Support for the meeting however, comes from one particular corner--it is paid for by the PPP Forum.

For the second year running health secretary Alan Milburn will be speaking on a platform paid for by drug multinational Pfizer. The meeting is called 'Managing Patients' Expectations-can Labour deliver?' In the new NHS Labour has to deliver lower patient expectations, not a higher level of service. Pfizer, along with the other firms, bleeds money out of the NHS through inflated costs of pharmaceuticals. This did not stop Milburn giving a eulogy to Pfizer at the 2000 Labour conference. His speech from Pfizer's platform, decorated with Pfizer's display boards and supported with Pfizer's wine and asparagus in prosciuttio, was followed by a barrage of complaints about privatisation and poor working conditions in the NHS from the floor. This conference will see a lot of Pfizer--which sponsored half a dozen meetings in 2000. With luck the conference will also be marked by even more anger on the floor.
Solomon Hughes


BETWEEN THE LINES

  • As New York's rescuers were sifting through the rubble in search of survivors, America's bosses moved to sack thousands of workers. The destruction of the World Trade Centre was just a great opportunity.
  • Not content with butchering tens of thousands of jobs, the five major US airlines handed in a claim for $5 billion, demanding that the taxpayers subsidise their loss of revenue.
    But according to Deutsche Bank, the airlines' fuel needs will fall by 300,000 barrels per day--which is worth about 2.7 billion a year at current prices.
  • Between the lines
  • Four days later US rail company Amtrak claimed 3 billion.
    This time the bosses want a subsidy because of increased business. Fear of flying has pushed up passenger demand by 40 percent on some routes, and the decades of underinvestment in the railways mean the system is unable to cope.
    One argument Amtrak is using to support its claim is that it has provided free transport for emergency workers!
  • The suicide attacks in the US have highlighted the deep pool of anger in the Middle East. Israel's war on Palestine, sanctions against Iraq, the US attack on Sudan and the continued support of deeply undemocratic regimes have driven sections of Arab society to the point of despair--yet any manifestation of discontent has been met with huge state repression.

    Now the WTO, IMF and World Bank are pushing for wholesale privatisation, plus cuts in social welfare and the dismantling of trade barriers that were able to keep local industry alive. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon to Yemen and even Kuwait have been presented with a list of 'modernisations'.

    After the Seattle and Genoa demonstrations the Arab left has begun to stir. In response to the WTO meeting planned for the Gulf State of Qatar in November, left parties have organised a counter-conference in Beirut, Lebanon, from 5 to 8 November. The conference plans to bring together anti-globalisation groups from across the region and, as the momentum for war on Afghanistan picks up, the organisers are keen to invite peace groups, anti-capitalist groups and trade unions to participate in the conference.

    If you want to take part in the event phone Simon Assaf on 07957 264 447, or logon to www.worldforumbeirut2001.org


    INDUSTRY

    Leaders withdraw from the battle

    Rail workers set to strike
    Rail workers set to strike

    On the day Blair was due to speak at this year's TUC conference, every Unison delegate wore a T-shirt with the message 'Keep public services public'. The RMT delegates decided that they were going to heckle over tube privatisation.

    But Blair was prepared to take cynical advantage of the tragic bombing in the US to try and squash opposition to his privatisation plans. He cancelled his speech, saying that it would be 'inappropriate' in the light of the events in New York.

    While every single company in Britain continued trading (including the arms fair in east London) TUC leaders wound up the conference the next day. This denied delegates a chance to debate privatisation, job losses, and Palestine. Not one union leader, either from the left or the right, came out and condemned this decision. Instead many of them have been happy to use the bombing as an excuse to call off or postpone major confrontations with the government.

    The CWU has also made a deal with Royal Mail to drop threatened strike ballots. In return managers have agreed not to impose changes to workers' terms and conditions at a local level without union agreement.

    Tucked away in the Guardian was a short announcement from the GMB union stating that it had suspended its planned 1 million campaign against the government's privatisation plans. It concluded, 'It is simply inappropriate to argue over this at a time when we should be showing solidarity.'

    But the bosses don't appear to be showing any of this new found 'solidarity'. Virgin used the tragedy as an excuse to announce 1,300 job losses and British Airways is shedding 7,000 jobs. Also while everyone's eyes were on the build up to war the Post Office regulator, unveiled its plans to privatise even more sections of Royal Mail and set up a scab mail service. Deya Ltd will be granted a licence to deliver bills during periods of disruption--such as industrial action.

    The drive to war has had an impact on the revival of trade union militancy. It has certainly enabled the union leaders to put the brakes on a fight over privatisation. But the signs of the growing resistance of the rank and file are still there. The revival of militancy on the tube continues to grow. Both Aslef and RMT members have voted overwhelmingly to strike over pay. Two one-day strikes are planned for the middle of October. Over 1,700 workers at Scottish Power are voting on taking strike action against job cuts and attacks on conditions.

    An unofficial strike by 270 workers at two north London delivery offices shows the deep level of bitterness that exists. A CWU branch officer was asked his opinion on the New York bombing by a work colleague. He told the worker that he thought the bombing was a terrible tragedy and added that he thought it was a product of US imperialism. Another worker overheard the conversation and reported it to management. Management suspended him and escorted him off the premises. Within an hour nearly 300 workers struck. Management withdrew the suspension pending a hearing, the result of which will be announced after Socialist Review goes to press.

    No one knows whether the drive to war will dampen the latest revival of trade union militancy. But the recent round of job cuts and the new wave of privatisations will ensure that bitterness will continue to grow. Will this bitterness lead to greater industrial struggles? Only time will tell. One thing is certain--the contradiction between the desires of working people and Blair's neo-liberal agenda remains as great as ever.
    Martin Smith


    Return to
    Contents page: Return to Socialist Review Index Home page