||Issue No. 145||19 July 2002|
Two Wings Flapping
Interview: In The Tent
Bad Boss: The Desk Nazi
Media: Hold the Presses
Workplace: Putting Bullies In Their Place
Industrial: Women and Work
International: Whine and Dine
History: Black Adder
Review: Bad Movie
Poetry: I Remember
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Hooray for Frank!
Reform or Die
Whine and Dine
On Thursday night Tony Blair sat down with his union critics at the downing St dinner table and tried to smooth over the ever increasing ructions - the unions were threatening to cut off an important Labour campaign financial lifeline if he wasn't prepared to listen.
Here in Australia the Sydney Morning Herald was able this week to give us intimate details of the what was on offer, to eat, at the dinner that Simon Crean had this week with his union critics.
The crisis of confidence between the unions and the British Labour leader, and the unions and the Australian Labor leader, may have been on the same scale but- either because no media was good enough, or they just didn't care to snoop - we don't know how sumptuous the meal on offer was at Tony Blair's dining table.
But we do know that the meeting was called because of a heightened sense of crisis with Downing Street insiders described it as a peace making effort aimed at the key people who help raise most of the Labour Party's finances.
However the labour movement in Britain tonight is still in turmoil because one of Tony Blair's key union allies has, it seems unexpectedly, been booted out in a union election, by an ex-communist left-wing rival.
After four recounts the Amicus union's general secretarty, Sir Ken Jackson, still it seems does not want to accept the election result - and is expected to put up a legal challenge to stop the takeover.
The key power people in the Labour movement are holding their breath because Amicus, is Britain's biggest private sector and traditionally the rightwing rock on which moderate Labour has withstood the challenges from the left throughout the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s.
John Edmonds, the leader of the big general union, the GMB, said that the Amicus vote was part of a swing away from New Labour occurring across the union movement.
And the shock election result comes close on the heels of a huge national strike this week by one million council workers - it was the first such strike by council workers since the infamous "winter of discontent" dispute of 1978-9 which brought down a Labour Government.
The council workers strike was deemed an outstanding success because many of the people involved in picket lines and street demos were taking part in their first ever strike and were feeling exhilarated.
With signs reading "Mums Army - for us to stay you need to pay" pinned to their shirts and clutching Unison and GMB placards, they cheered as speaker after speaker berated the government over its 3% pay offer.
The exuberance of the tens of thousands who took part led to widespread talk of a new mood of militancy, with working people prepared to use their industrial muscle in a way they have not done for decades.
Already the British media are talking darkly of a 'summer of discontent' with more strikes on the horizon - including London's famous Tube where workers stopped, today, for 24 hours causing havoc in the British capital.
And commentators are saying it is because of this sudden air of crisis that Tony Blair is now offering a much wider open door to his union allies than has been normal under his New Labour government.
Thursday night's dinner with Blair was described as a "peacemaking" meeting at his Downing Street home. The British PM used the meeting to discuss the lengthening list of union demands, including the extension of workers' rights and the threat of withholding financial contributions, unless the private-public partnership programme is scaled down.
The Labour Party , is struggling to control its reported $26 million overdraft, and does not wish to jeopardise the substantial funding from the unions - especially as some have already started withdrawing cash from Labour MPs they see as hostile.
Last week the RMT transport union dumped its support for a raft of key Labour MPs - including the Deputy PM, John Prescott, because they would not sign a union pledge opposing further privatization of transport - and calling for a campaign to re-nationalise some rail lines.
Both the Times and the Guardian splashed across their Thursday morning front pages details of a supposedly secret document which would see the Blair Government grant extra rights for British workers, including broader rights to strike.
The two newspapers - and then the other media - hyped up this document as a knee jerk, secret deal, by the leadership of the Labour government and the TUC, to try to head off a new wave of militancy by a growing band of new, dissident, anti-Blair trade union general secretaries.
The TUC head, John Monks, angrily denied the Times and Guardian's talk of secret deals saying that reports of some kind of secret campaign or document on employee rights combine exaggeration and inaccuracy in equal measure.
John Monks pointed out that the TUC document comes in the context of a new enquiry into workplace laws recently established by the Blair Government.
"What has happened is simply this. The government was elected on a manifesto that committed it to review the working of the Employment Relations Act - clauses in that act permit review of certain aspects of its operation," John Monks said/
"Since then the TUC has been formulating its response. This began with a debate at our Congress last year in full public view
"Earlier this year the TUC began drafting a detailed response to the government's review.
" This document was agreed at the TUC Executive on June 19th, and posted on our web site earlier this month. A short summary of our policy has also been made available on a leaflet "modern rights for modern workplaces" which has been widely circulated including among MPs.
"In due course a formal submission will be made to the government.
"The document was not on the agenda at yesterday's meeting of the TUC executive, nor has the TUC at anytime discussed Labour Party funding.
" This would be entirely inappropriate as the TUC is not affiliated to the Labour Party, nor are a majority of our affiliated unions."
Most of the British media did not predict the defeat of Sir Ken and are rushing hard to get to know what they are labeling the 'virtually unknown' who has won the leadership of the UK's second biggest union.
Derek Simpson, the new leader of Amicus, is a 57-year-old is a former Communist who has been a Labour Party member for the past 10 years.
He described himself to the BBC yesterday as a "lieutenant of the Left" who would not be offering Downing Street "blind allegiance".
He says that while he is not a Blairite, he is not anti-Blair.
How radical a path he will be able to take Amicus is much debated because he will have to continue to deal with a union executive which is still dominated by right-wingers loyal to Sir Ken.
Despite that Simpson joins a growing list of recently elected Left-wing union leaders prepared to challenge the New Labour values of Prime Minister Blair.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT rail union. He led yesterday's 24-hour strike on London Underground over safety under the proposed public-private partnership. He has also led a series of high-profile stoppages over pay at half a dozen train companies on the national network.
Mick Rix of the train drivers' union Aslef. He has been highly successful in playing train operating companies off against each other in an attempt to drive wages up. He believes the disputes have showed that there should be national pay bargaining in a renationalised rail system.
Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union. Mr Hayes has challenged the introduction of competition at the expense of the British Post Office - curiously called Consignia. He wants the monopoly over letters that the state-owned company holds to be preserved to protect his members' jobs.
Andy Gilchrist of the Fire Brigades Union. Later this year he could be leading a national fire strike - only the second in the history of the union. Mr Gilchrist is demanding a minimum of $A 90,000 for his members and a new automatic pay mechanism to set wages.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online