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Action not words to defeat privatisation
EVEN BEFORE a recession, opposition to Blair's privatisation plans are growing. Polls show that a majority of people think that schools and hospitals should be provided entirely or mostly by the public sector. In one poll for the GMB union, 24% of Labour voters would not vote Labour next time if Blair goes ahead and privatises key public services.
Union leaders, at the TUC, have been forced to voice the mounting anger against privatisation. Dave Prentis, general secretary of UNISON, threatened industrial action if members' pay and conditions were undermined through transfer to the private sector. Bill Morris of the TGWU, warned that this issue could even bring Blair down.
While the public-sector unions are demanding that New Labour retreat from privatisation, the bosses of companies looking to rake in profits from health, education and other sectors, are complaining Blair's plans don't go far enough.
Blair will continue to be hemmed in from both sides. In order to placate the unions before TUC and Labour Party conferences, he's tried publicly to soften his tone and appear more conciliatory. But behind the scenes he's determined to push ahead with his agenda.
A recession will mean lower tax receipts and increased spending on unemployment benefits, intensifying pressure to push the boundaries of privatisation even further.
In words the union leaders can sound angry and even radical. Translating that into effective action is another question. They will mount token protests; at a local level they may even be forced to sanction industrial action. But they are likely to resist national, co-ordinated strike action, which is the only way to decisively defeat privatisation. However, faced with determined and organised pressure from public- sector workers, they could be forced to go much further than they want in organising action.
Public-sector workers need to organise now to prepare for national action. The broad lefts in several public- sector unions have come together to organise an anti-privatisation conference on 24 November. This is an important step forward. The conference can lay the basis for an effective co-ordinated fightback against privatisation and Socialist Party members and supportersneed to build now in the workplaces and communities to make it a success.
In The Socialist 14 September 2001: