Blair wants toothless trade unions; Barber agrees

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PRIME Minister Blair on Saturday, at a Unions 21 conference, urged unions to modernise to ‘seize the opportunities of globalisation and the changing nature of work’.

According to Blair, modernised unions accept globalisation, the ‘right’ of capital to seek out the cheapest supplies of labour power in any part of the planet. Their ‘opportunities’ amount to assisting the bosses to cut wages and benefits and drive up productivity to make British capitalism attractive to rapacious employers.

Unions could become ‘a revitalised part of British society’, according to Blair. But they would require ‘profound organisational change’, in which they would ‘advance the interests of people in a modern and insecure workplace, with a far broader range of services and support than is traditional’.

The role of the unions is to be a junior Human Resources partner of big business in the ‘insecure workplace’. They will provide ‘services’ and no doubt retraining opportunities for when the bosses decide to move on to greener pastures.

This role, Blair called a ‘social partnership’. He said that trade unions’ influence would be ‘in proportion to the weight they have in broader society and the reasonableness of the case they make’. The message was, the lower the wage claim the more popular you will be with the boss and Labour. Blair’s bottom line is that there is to be no political power for a thoroughly modern Blair-type trade union.

They are to have the power ‘of a small “p” variety. . . This derives not from industrial militancy or historical party relationships, but from how well unions perform their proper functions.’

This is more of – help the bosses and we will see that you are all right. Blair’s speech was greeted by the TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, a union leader straight out of the Blair mould – he has never led a strike but has already sold out the FBU in 2002-3 and has done his best to sell out the locked-out Gate Gourmet workers in 2005-6.

His maxim at the conference was a tiny variation of the Blair theme. Barber said: ‘If we are able to shape a more positive relationship with government then our opportunities will be that much greater.’

Here he is speaking about the individual bureaucrat advancing his career.

He noted that: ‘We should work together to improve productivity. One particular contribution that unions can make is our work to improve skills.’ He doesn’t mention improving wages. This is new unionism indeed. He hoped to see a ‘new politics developing where all the major parties are genuinely prepared to acknowledge the positive union role – no more “enemy within”’. Barber was volunteering his services to all parties! The enemy within is to be the rank-and-file trade unionist who defends jobs, wages and basic rights against the employers.

One of the most rapacious employers around is Gate Gourmet. Last week the vice president of Human Resources Europe Gate Gourmet, Richard Wells, credited Barber with brokering the Gate Gourmet deal with the TGWU leadership. Wells said: ‘His was a most helpful intervention, he was able to do what Acas couldn’t.’

On August 10-11 2005, Gate Gourmet locked out and sacked 800 workers at Heathrow. The deal that Barber brokered agreed to the company’s ‘survival plan’ and to 144 compulsory sackings and hundreds of voluntary redundancies, and agreed that before any worker received the pittance offered in compensation, all workers would have to sign a compromise agreement, giving up their right to go to an industrial tribunal or take legal action of any kind against Gate Gourmet, and that they would never again seek work with Gate Gourmet or any associated company.

No wonder Gate Gourmet praise Barber. They can’t get enough of this type of trade unionism.

This yellow trade unionism has been rejected by the locked-out Gate Gourmet workers, and by the whole of the working class. The working class must now build a new revolutionary leadership for their trade unions, one that will mobilise to overthrow capitalism not seek to prop it up through a betrayal of the entire working class.