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Fuel protests

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From: The Socialist issue 173, 15 September 2000: Blair: Running on Empty

Search site for keywords: Police - Fuel Protests - Oil - Labour - Tax

Blair: running on empty

Massive suppport for Fuel Protests

Police used to break pickets

Tanker drivers halt supplies

LIKE THE ghost of Margaret Thatcher, Blair has mobilised the forces of the state to break the fuel protests by truck drivers' and farmers. The Queen, through the Privy Council, has approved the use of emergency powers. Police have been ordered to engineer a "break out" of tankers. As we go to press a small number of tankers have been escorted out of depots with a huge police presence. Blair boasted that he would end the crisis within 24 hours. What rubbish!

BLAIR IS using the forces of the state against one of the biggest and most popular movements since the miners' protest of 1992. Some papers have compared it to the poll tax protests of a decade ago. It's a movement that has rocked New Labour and inspired workers across the country. As reports from around the country show, the militant mood has widespread backing.

In a phone poll in the Midlands 94% agreed that the action was justified. Why is this? It's because people are feeling angry at what New Labour are doing and sympathise with any group that takes action. A woman queuing for petrol in east London told The Socialist. "I definitely agree with the protests. What about poor people, people on the social and people with kids? The trains are killing us and the bus takes ages. We need to get the price down. It's not just about the rich, it's about single mums, people like us."

People have had enough of high fuel prices. But they are also pleased that at last someone is standing up to Blair and New Labour. Crucially, in an act of workers' solidarity, tanker drivers refused to cross picket lines. Scandalously their leaders have ordered them to do so. In the real world workers support the protests.

Meanwhile at the TUC conference, trade union leaders were falling over themselves to condemn them. Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU has called for protesters to be arrested. TUC leader John Monks commented to one delegate who was critical of his lack of leadership "what do you want me to do, picket an oil depot?" Many workers will say "Yes"! We need action to defend our wages, jobs and public services.

The fuel protests have shown the way.

Fuelling the anger

AT THE Purfleet and Coryton oil depots and refinery, Essex, protestors included self employed owner-drivers, drivers working on percentage for haulage contractors, one haulage contractor, and local people who can't afford to run their cars.

At one depot, lorries had to block the entrance to stop tankers leaving, although they made an agreement to let any tanker destined for hospitals or emergency services through. At others there was no need to blockade; the tanker drivers weren't going anywhere.

Opinions were mixed on how to take the struggle forward. No-one was a trade union member - many couldn't see the point of joining one. Most people there had never taken action before.

Some protesters thought it better that the protests remained completely spontaneous, saying: "If we get organised we'll get leaders and if they're not very good leaders then where are you, we're better off like this." Others saw the need to coordinate to build more effective action and were trying to contact protests across the country.

AT CARDIFF docks, the main distribution centre for South Wales, tanker drivers were refusing to cross the picket lines. Lorry drivers explained issues in trade union terms. There's only a dozen or so lorries but they've brought the place to a halt.

AT ESSO'S Fawley refinery near Southampton, there were jeers for Tony Blair as he appeared on the small black and white picket line TV. Other drivers described him as a Tory. Ironic shouts of 'Thanks BBC!' followed reports that emergency services had two days fuel left; everyone knew it was lies.

The Socialist says:

Cut fuel taxes now!
No to the oil companies' profiteering. Bring them under public ownership and democratic control.
Increase spending on an integrated public transport system.
Increase public spending on research into alternative, environmentally friendly energy sources.

What the Protesters said

"The last few weeks I've made 150 in profit, my rent is 60 a week. I've got a family."

"I work a 50 hour week and take home 200 it costs 50 a week to run my car. I can't afford it."

"This is a fight for survival. It we don't succeed we might as well sell up"

"It's not just about fuel - it's about how much tax we have to pay and what we get for it."

"They say the tax is going to the NHS - well if it was it wouldn't he so bad. My mate had to pay 1,600 to get an operation done privately because he couldn't afford to be off work for years on a waiting list. The operation was done by the same surgeon who does it on the NHS."

"I used to work in Ford's. Major strikes were never silly, we were losing money but we had no choice. This is the same, it's a matter of principle."

"You've got to take your hat off to the French - they get stuff done. British people have taken it for too long."

"Blair will have to eat his words, in a few days there won't he anything else for him to eat."

There was also anger at all politicians and trade union leaders, several commented on John Monks' statement saying: "He's just sucking up to Labour, he wants a knighthood."

Labour's green facade

NEW LABOUR also argue (weakly) that Britain is duty bound to reduce gas emissions to stop global warming. This argument is disingenuous. The government should be trying to solve the problems by such measures as a massive investment in a cheap, integrated and improved public transport system.

In reality Gordon Brown is trying to use fuel taxes instead of income tax as a disguised way of generating government revenues.

Burning increasing amounts of petrol and diesel is harming people's health and the wider environment. But raising taxes is a very inefficient way of cutting fuel use.

Alternative technologies, such as fuel cells powered by methane that only produce water as a waste product, should be properly invested in.

But to plan and finance such a programme means taking the auto, oil and chemical industries into public ownership.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
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