TWO HUNDRED trade unionists and youth attended the News Line-All Trades Union Alliance conference in Bethnal Green, east London, last Sunday.
Opening the conference, chairman Sheila Torrance said that Blair’s resignation ‘is certainly a welcome exit, he’s hated.’
But ‘Brown’s policies are exactly the same as Blair’s’, she added.
If Brown is elected, ‘which isn’t certain’, it could be ‘the shortest government ever seen’.
She said: ‘We are fighting for a workers government to bring in socialist policies and bring an end to this rotten system.’
Moving the main resolution, ‘After Blair, not Brown but a workers government and socialism!’, ATUA National Secretary Dave Wiltshire said: ‘Blair was driven out of office by the intransigence of the Iraqi masses and the British working class.’
He told the conference that ‘Blair tried to carry on with the policies of Thatcher to smash the Welfare State.
‘What was driving him was the huge crisis of the world capitalist system, the crisis of over-production and raging inflation, which is driving them to recolonise the world and also against their own working class.
‘British imperialism is happily clinging on to the coat-tails of American imperialism.
‘A bloody record of weak, infeebled imperialism, wracked by crisis.’
He added: ‘There are huge changes within the working class. We’re beginning to see huge mass movements.
‘Blair couldn’t go through to smash the working class, he was defeated.
‘Now they hope Brown can do the job.
‘Brown is the architect of PFI. It is his central plank.
‘Today, the CBI director issued a letter saying to Brown: “Don’t back off PFI’’.’
Brown was the man who handed over interest rates to the Bank of England, said Wiltshire.
This had led to an increase in house repossessions by the banks.
‘Whole swathes of the country are facing repossession, that is the stark reality facing literally millions of people throughout the country.’
Wiltshire continued: ‘Company pension schemes are being wound up.
‘Pensions are only deferred pay.’
But they were being stolen from the working class, Wiltshire said.
He said that the Post Office, employing 130,000 workers, is now ‘under huge attack’ and that the postal workers are being balloted for strike action.
‘In health, the drive of Brown and Blair has been to turn the NHS into a clone of the American system, under which if you have an accident they check on your insurance to see if they can take you to hospital.’
He continued: ‘Brown wants to destroy over 100,000 civil servants’ jobs.’
He asked: ‘Where do the trade union leaders stand?’
He spoke about the leadership of the Transport and General Workers Union, in which General Secretary Tony Woodley’s ‘style is to talk militant out of one corner of his mouth, and betray on the other.’
He said that the crisis of the capitalist system today has driven Woodley to the extreme right wing.
Wiltshire condemned the role of the TGWU leadership in the car industry and the Gate Gourmet struggle, where after the workers were sacked ‘by megaphone’, General Secretary Woodley condemned the ‘gangster capitalists’ and pledged that all the workers would be returned to their jobs.
But he told yesterday’s conference that Woodley had stabbed the locked-out workers’ struggle in the back.
‘The TGWU leadership and the TUC lined up openly with management,’ he said.
Wiltshire went on: ‘What we have to understand about Woodley and his ilk is that they are wedded to capitalism.
‘They cannot fight the bosses, they cannot fight the system.’
He said: ‘The question now for the trade union movement is that we stand at a crossroads.
‘As Leon Trotsky said, either the trade unions become adjuncts of the state or they become fighting organisations.
‘But that requires a new leadership.
‘What’s Woodley’s position? He will give British Airways anything it wants.’
Wiltshire concluded: ‘When we face problems like the closure of hospitals and factories, we need a leadership prepared to occupy, like the teachers and community at Wembley, occupying against the private academy.’
He continued: ‘We need Councils of Action, uniting the working class and sections of the middle class, to lead and protect occupations.
‘The struggle within the trade union movement is to build such a leadership, nationalise the banks and withdraw all troops immediately.
‘The resoluteness and determination of the workers arbitrarily set up and sacked at Gate Gourmet is not unique.
‘Take this movement forward. Organise a general strike to bring down this government and bring in a workers government.’
The next speaker was Bill Rogers, chairman of Chingford ASLEF.
He said: ‘When the railways were privatised in 1996 they wrecked a perfectly good system of railways.’
He went on to condemn the use of non-ratified labour to maintain tracks.
He said: ‘It’s emerged today they are now using prison labour to work on the tracks.
‘That’s where privatisation has led.
‘Since privatisation train fares have gone up, year on year, triple the rate of inflation.
‘The whole series of rail accidents all come directly out of privatisation.’
He added: ‘Our branch at Chingford passed a resolution to set up a Council of Action to protect north-east London hospitals.
‘When it comes to leadership, the BMA is now talking about a “core’’ NHS service. They are advocating rationing in the health service.
‘We have got to build a new revolutionary leadership in the trade union movement through organising occupations, pickets and strikes.’
TGWU bus workers convenor for Travel London West, Paul Brown, told the conference: ‘Bus workers have always looked to tube workers.
‘Our salaries have always been on a par.
‘But now, since privatisation, we are at least one third behind them.
‘The integrated bus network we had in 1996 has been smashed up.
‘Transport for London dishes out contracts to privatised companies, who earn billions off the back of our members.
‘We’ve called for TfL to take drivers’ wages out of tendering, but TfL is not interested in that.
‘We’ve started to organise an activists’ network.
‘Our members are saying: here’s our benchmark, we want our wages the same as tube workers.
‘We are putting our campaign together to take wages out of tendering.
‘We are saying we want nationalisation, that is our agenda.
‘If Brown comes in, he’s not interested in nationalisation.
‘There’s got to be a movement for the nationalisation of the bus industry.
‘We need a campaign of industrial action.’
Jean Roberts, from the Wembley Park anti-academy occupation, said: ‘There are 400 academies on the cards, sponsored by private individuals or companies who have a say in the curriculum.
‘Creationism is one of the things being taught.
‘These private companies pay just one or two million pounds and the government puts in £35-40 million to build the academy and also provide all the costs of running the school.
‘It’s clearly privatisation of education.
‘There is a need for a secondary school in south Brent, but not in north Brent.
‘The key thing is the loss of the community sports field’
‘On March 23, we moved in and erected the tents. At the three teachers’ conferences we got great support.
‘We are growing. More and more young people are dropping in.
‘Anyone is really welcome to visit, send a donation and write letters of support. That is really heartening.’
Parmjit Bains, one of the leaders of the Gate Gourmet dispute, said: ‘We have been locked out for nearly 21 months now.
‘On August 10, 2005, casual workers were brought in to our workplaces.
‘They sacked about 800 people.
‘At first, Woodley said we would all go back together, but less than one month later he signed a Compromise Agreement, agreeing at least 144 (compulsory) redundancies.
‘We are in the middle of our employment tribunals.
‘At the previous hearing, all the evidence of the employer was accepted, and none of our evidence.
‘Our tribunal has not been a fair tribunal, it has been for the venture capitalists who give money to the government.’
She told the conference: ‘Our struggle is still continuing. We have a hearing this Friday.
‘We will not give up. We must beat these ruthless privateers and we must get rid of trade union leaders like Woodley who help the bosses.’
PCS Defra EC member, Nias Faiz, said: ‘Our dispute is with the employer, which is the government, so it is both industrial and political.’
He told the conference that the PCS union will not accept compulsory redundancies and demands fair and equal, national pay.
‘Our strike on May 1 was a success,’ he said.
He continued: ‘We can be proud of the stand we and the PCS have made against the scumbag Tony Blair government.
‘We hope we can reach a negotiated settlement, but if further action is required, we will be prepared to take it.
‘We are in the forefront to call on other public sector unions to take joint industrial action.
‘May Day’s strike wasn’t the end of the process, it was the beginning.
‘We want joint action across the public sector.
‘We have to take joint industrial action to bring down this scumbag government.’
Hengride Permal, the Chair of the Chagos Islands Community Association told the conference: ‘We assert our right to determine our own destiny.
‘In the 1970s, in Mauritius, we took to the streets to demand the removal of the US military base.
‘In that tradition, we are fighting in Crawley for our rights.
‘We have been fighting the Council and the Social Services. We did a march in February in our fight.
‘We were given a British passport and then we were left to our own devices.
‘We have the support of trade unions. We have the support of the WRP and other groups.
‘We are waiting for a judgement in May.
‘The ruling was that we have the right to go back to our island, but the government has appealed that decision twice.
‘Here we are part of the working class. For example, our people did not know about the minimum wage.
‘Together we are strong. We must unite together to fight for our rights.’
Richard Kassil, the Deputy Area Representative of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) for Harrow and Uxbridge said: ‘We at Royal Mail are under attack.
‘We are balloting for strike action.
‘They claim that the forces of competition demand changes. This is a race to the bottom.’
He then spoke of the struggle of the sacked Gate Gourmet workers.
‘I have been with the Gate Gourmet workers at the TUC (Trades Union Congress) conference.
‘A henchman of (T&G General Secretary) Tony Woodley came out to tell them to stop shouting and go home. They did not represent them.
‘At the industrial tribunal their case was thrown out. What we need is legislation.
‘Blair and Brown are of the same mould. That mould has to be broken.
‘To the Gate Gourmet workers, I say your strength is our hope.’
Malkiat Bilku, the leader of the Hillingdon Hospital strike from 1995 to 2000 told the conference: ‘In 1995, they thought they could use us as cheap labour.
‘We beat Pall Mall, we beat Granada and we beat the trade union leaders. I am a shop steward again.
‘As the working class we have to take whatever action is necessary to defend the NHS.
‘In Hillingdon, community health services are being handed to privateers. This is wrong.
‘This is a thing that has to be stopped. We must fight back.
‘We have to have proper trade union leaders.
‘We do not give in. We are altogether and we are going to win.’
Anna Athow, a consultant surgeon and a member of the British Medical Association’s consultants’ committee told the conference: ‘Blair is going.
‘But he will not only be remembered for mass murder in Iraq, but for the privatisation reforms in the NHS and other public services.
‘Brown has already made clear that he is treading the same path.’
She added: ‘Only since 2002 with the advent of the primary care trusts, and the purchaser provider split has there been official promotion of purchasing from commercial providers, and this has mushroomed with private treatment centres doing elective surgery, private scanning companies taking imaging work away from hospitals and now ICATs and polyclinics taking away outpatient clinics.
‘Last week, Sir George Alberti, the government’s Emergency Services Tsar, produced a report on the health services in the boroughs of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey in North London.
‘In it, he justified the PCTs plans to take away from Chase Farm Hospital, the consultant led maternity unit, the in-patient paediatric unit, and the Accident and Emergency department.’
Athow concluded: ‘The biggest fight we face is to change the leadership in the trade unions. This bureaucracy is not all powerful.
‘What is urgently needed is national industrial action by the trade unions to stop the government’s privatisation drive.
‘We must make this the policy of all trade unions, remove the leaders who oppose it and get rid of this government.
‘In the meantime, our District General Hospitals must be kept open with all acute services on site.
‘Physical action is needed for this and local people must, if necessary, occupy services to defend them.
‘In North East London we have set up a Council of Action and organised successful pickets at Chase Farm and North Middlesex hospitals.’
Nash Campbell, the National Secretary of the Young Socialists said: ‘Why do we have to pay £3,000 to go to university when the government is spending billions on the war in Iraq?
‘There has been so much killing in the war on Iraq. Why cannot they leave the country and let the people run it.
‘This system is corrupt and we have to get rid of it.
‘It is unfair that they put ASBOs on young people.
‘Two years ago, a young man was going to work and the police shot him. Yet, this week, they say nothing will happen.
‘We have to fight. If we do not fight, there will be no future.’
Rob Bolton, the Chair of South Central No.1 CWU said: ‘Postal workers face an unprecedented situation.
‘We have lost tens of thousands of jobs.
‘They are closing 70 Crown Post Offices and the rural post offices.’
He concluded: ‘Royal Mail has come up with a pay cut, with strings.
‘What we need now is for our union to enter a public sector alliance to defend our services, jobs and pay.
‘The Blair government could have been brought down before, but the trade union leaders prop it up.
‘Brown is an ersatz version of Blair. We need to bring down this government and go forward to a workers’ government.’
Cathy Betchen told the conference: ‘For Chagossian people English is a second language.
‘We have to fight the tuition fees which are too much for Chagossians.’
Terry Collins, a T&G member working for Hackney Council said: ‘The council uses divide and rule. They are trying to split the roadsweepers and dustmen.
‘They are trying to destroy the services by stealth.’
Frances Scott, a mature student at Hackney College spoke of the cuts in courses.
She said: ‘I am a part-time student in sign language at level two. So many of these courses have been closed down.
‘English as a second language is also being cut.
‘We should organise a march on East London Education and Skills Council, in Stratford, and sit in to stop the cuts and closures.’
Billy Colvill, a CWU rep in south London endorsed what others from his union had said.
Concerning action alongside the PCS, he said: ‘We should have joint action. If we are coming out, everyone should come out.’
Dr Bannin, a GP from west London, told the conference: ‘What shocked me was the way the government treated Commonwealth doctors.
‘Some were packed off half way through their speciality training.
‘Some GPs owning large practices are treated very well by the PCTs, but there are six grades of GPs that are treated very badly.
‘They put pressure on small GP practices and get them to accept early retirement. There are 250 doctors in west London that are having problems.’
Turning to the doctor training issue she said: ‘We want junior doctors to get proper training so that our patients are safe.’
News Line Editor, Paddy O’Regan, commended the resolution put to the conference.
He said: ‘We have a very broad representation at our conference, because every section is under attack.
‘We welcome the Chagos Islanders, who were driven from their homes and their animals were killed, with the Queen signing their eviction order so that the biggest US base in the world could be established there.
‘The British working class has a duty to support them and to ensure that they return to a base free island.
‘We extend a very warm welcome to the Gate Gourmet workers.’
He described how the ferocious attack on them by the Texas Pacific private equity capitalists was the beginning of an onslaught to drive the whole British working class back to where it had come from.
He said it was a ‘planned attack’ with a plan drawn up a year previous, and that this attack arose out of the deepening crisis of world capitalism.
He described how the company organised specialised security forces, mainly ex-servicemen, from companies that boasted of their service in places like Iraq and Kosovo to deal with the workers, and had then called in armed riot police on the day of the action.
For a month before the 130 replacement workers were brought in, the factory had been put on a stage of ‘red alert’ by these military men.
‘This was to confront 800 workers who did not know what was going to happen on August 10 2005.
‘The union leaders did know, but they absented themselves from the factory on the crucial day. leaving the workers to it
The workers were shocked by this planned assault and many of them gathered in the canteen. Some were told to go there by managers.
‘The industrial tribunal decided that the workers took industrial action.’
However it was TGWU National Secretary Gold who told union convenor, Dhillon, to tell the management that the workers would not be leaving the canteen until the threat to sack them was withdrawn.
The workers were then sacked and the union leaders refused to make the dispute official saying that they couldn’t because it arose out of the illegal action of the workers. They did not even pay hardship pay until they were forced to.
Woodley and the TUC’s Brendan Barber then brought in a ‘compromise agreement that gave the company everything it wanted, from its survival plan to 144 compulsory redundancies, with hundreds of voluntary redundancies.
In January 2006 the TGWU stopped paying hardship pay.
Now TGWU solicitors are telling workers that all of their claims for racial discrimination against Gate Gourmet must be withdrawn from the industrial tribunal or workers will not be represented by the TGWU and that the workers will have to bear penalties and massive costs.
The TGWU leaders are still trying to cozy up to Gate Gourmet and keep their special relationship.
Then there is the question of the £600,000 hush money payment by the TGWU leaders to sacked shop stewards who led supporting action by BA baggage handlers on August 10 and 11 2005 when the Gate Gourmet workers were sacked.
This hush money was paid to cover up what was done by the trade union leaders at the time the Gate Gourmet workers were sacked.
There is a TGWU biennial Conference this July.
It must demand that the hush money deal documents are published, that the Gate Gourmet dispute is made official, that hardship pay is resumed and that these workers get the required support to get their jobs back on their old terms and conditions.
‘The Biennial conference must sack the Woodley leadership.’
O’Regan continued: ‘The whole working class is now getting the Gate Gourmet treatment.
In the big struggles that are emerging the danger is that the trade union leaders are going to act in exactly the same way way as did the TGWU leaders at Gate Gourmet.
He warned that the struggle coming up at the Royal Mail was a battle that had also been planned in advance by the bosses and the government.
‘This battle in the Post Office is not an accident. They have built up the private companies, and a strike breaking apparatus.
‘They are provoking a strike, just as Thatcher did in relation to the miners. And no doubt have put in place their plans, like Thatcher.
‘For us the question is to build a new leadership in the unions. This is the lesson of the Gate Gourmet struggle.
‘We must build up the Workers Revolutionary Party.
‘The postal workers must not fight alone and nor must the civil servants.
‘When the postal workers take strike action we must see to it that they are joined by the whole of the working class in a general strike to bring down the Brown government to go forward to a workers government and socialism.
‘We need a socialist revolution.
‘This is a revolutionary situation that is developing fast.
‘We must see to it that it has the leadership it deserves by rapidly building the WRP and the YS.
‘The working class has to bring down this Brown government, to go forward to a workers’ government to get rid of capitalism.
‘This is the only way forward.’