Blair was forced to stand down on 27 June because opposition to his policies has been building for years. Both Blairite and Brownite backbench MPs demanded he announce last autumn that he would go within a year- they feared he was becoming unelectable. They were correct! Labour lost 500 local councillors in the May 2006 and in May 2007 they lost 300 councillors plus control of the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament (the overall share of the vote was 27 per cent).


 


No post-war Prime Minister has experienced protest on such a scale which saw millions of people take to the streets in protest against his policy of going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blair singled out Iraq as his biggest problem,  “The blowback since … has been fierce, unrelenting and costly.” [1]


 


Blair’s Government has 7,000 troops in Iraq and 3,000 in Afghanistan, British private “security” firms employ 21,000 mercenaries in Iraq, many of them ex-British army. The wars and occupations are about western imperialism’s ownership and control of oil, the world’s resources and the Middle East and millions in Britain know it.


 


Over 100,000 have resigned from Party membership and support from workers outside the Party has dwindled to such an extent that for the first time since the 1930s a left candidate was unable to make a challenge for the leadership. Only one trade union declared its support for the possible left candidate, John McDonnell.


 


Labour attacks the working class


 


A snapshot of Britain shows the contrast: between the rich and the poor is growing rapidly;  police powers increase but there is more corruption in high places; vast building projects develop alongside decay in the cities. Asset stripping companies “Private Equity firms” make millions by buying out firms yet pay less tax to the Government than the cleaners of their offices. Huge bonuses go to financial dealers who are paid in part for helping to destroy the pensions of 100,000s of workers.


 


The Government poured money into the National Health Service, and it poured out into paying the rising costs of drugs, private contractors and builders, the huge cost of the Private Finance Initiative[2] and private computer firms. [3] Meanwhile many newly trained health workers cannot find jobs in the NHS.


 


The Welfare State was created after the Second World War in response to the deep anger felt by workers over the depression of 1930s and their struggle and determination for change. It was set up with the ethos of providing cradle to grave protection. Now Britain is becoming a hell hole of privatisation – with privatisation from the cradle to the grave that causes ever greater injustice.


 


The programme that Blair developed for the youth meant greater criminalisation, an increasing DNA database of youth whose records will never be removed, CCTV cameras in schools and on the streets and more children in prison than any other country in Europe. In Britain about 3.4 million children live in poverty, 400,000 live in over crowded conditions.


 


The Labour Party today attacks Asian, Muslim and Black communities through the so-called ‘war on terror’. The propaganda around the ‘war on terror’ creates fears in order to force through ever greater attacks on democratic and workers rights, while supporting invasion and the US strategy for global domination. This policy and the war against social misbehaviour are reasons used to legitimate a policy  of ‘tough on crime’ but lenient on the crimes of the rich and powerful.


 


To be tougher on crime than the Tories was crucial to how the Labour Party was reborn as New Labour. Since 1997 they have created 53 Law and Order Bills with 3000 new criminal offences; the prison population has risen to an incredible 80,299 (under the Tories it was 41,000).


 


This is part of a fierce attack on marginalised sectors of the working class and is a preparation for attacking the whole working class. The immigrant working class are denied  the right to work, are forced into destitution, detained without charge (including families) and forcefully deported. Many are forced to work in the so-called ‘black economy’ to survive, and these are the most exploited workers in factories, building sites and service sectors.


 


Brown will be no different. He supported the invasion of Iraq, was one of the architects of the privatisation plans for the public sector and fully supports new draconian ‘law and order’ legislation, which will go deeper than even Blair was able to go.


 


These laws, in an economy that has grown continuously for ten years, does not signify stability for British capitalism. The methods of control that British imperialism has used overseas over centuries is becoming the basis of control today inside Britain.


 


The same fundamental economic structural problems continue from Thatcher to Blair to Brown. Much of manufacturing industrial base of British capitalism has been destroyed. Manufacturing jobs have declined by over 1.2 million since 1989 and is less than 16 per cent of the workforce. Two million jobs have been created in the service industry – the great part of which is casualised or low pay work.


But now there is a rising trade deficit that meant for example in March 2007, the UK imported £7bn more goods than it exported – more than 6% of GDP. There are record levels of personal debt and bankruptcy and much of the personal debt comes from re-mortgaging on houses and interest rates are rising. This situation is not sustainable.


 


Stop the War Coalition


 


The war was the single biggest factor in bringing Blair down, so how did the organised opposition develop? The Stop the War Coalition is led by the Socialist Workers Party, what remains of the  Communist Party of Britain, mainly verbal support by the trade union leadership, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and organisations from the Muslim Community.  In reality it does not go beyond marches and rallies and there is no deep discussion or debate about how to go further and little connection with the working class.


 


Stop the War Coalition focuses its campaign on Iraq, Afghanistan and makes statements against any invasion of Iran. It is opposed to “British support for the military dictatorship in Pakistan and the ruling oligarchy in Saudi Arabia.” But it says nothing about the role of the United Nations today or its role in helping to starve the Iraqi people through sanctions in the 1990s and in so doing preparing the way for the US and British invasion. The UN occupation of the Lebanon is ignored.


 


Many involved in the Labour movement including the Labour Left, CND and others believe that the UN is a ‘peace keeping’ force. They oppose ‘illegal’ wars but not wars led by the imperialist army in ‘Blue Helmets’.


 


Anti-war demonstrations demand that Brown changes Labour’s policy and withdraws the troops, but says nothing more than if the war continues the StWC will continue to demonstrate. Demonstrations are important but will not stop the war. The central question and one that was largely ignored was how the trade union movement was to be mobilised to stop war.


 


There is more struggle beginning to take place amongst trade unionists today against the Government offensive on wages, jobs and public services. It is this movement that needs to also to mobilise against the war because no working class can advance unless it fights its own ruling class’s drive to war.


 


The British Left


 


There are a number political tendencies such as Respect (led by the SWP and George Galloway MP for Respect), Campaign for a New Workers Party (led by the Committee for a Workers International), and efforts to form new rank and file union based organisations such as the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport union) led initiatives to build a shop stewards movement.


The forerunner of much of this was the political alliances was the Socialist Alliance, a progressive alliance that brought many revolutionary tendencies together, including the largest, but is now reduced to a tiny group. It is important to note that during the 1990s the Socialist Alliance highlighted the Communist Refoundation in Italy and the Scottish Socialist Party as parties to emulate.


The SSP split when Sheridan (the best known leader of the SSP) cleared his name in court over allegations of ‘immoral’ behaviour by the gutter press ‘News of the World’. A number of other leading members of the SSP were called as witnesses against him in court. They testified that Sheridan had confirmed in a leading body of the SSP that the allegations were true. Sheridan called his former comrades liars and political scabs in court. He won his court case and had the right to take the ‘NotW’ to court.


Although acrimonious in court both sides agree on a Scottish road to socialism. The SSP split to create Solidarity (Tommy Sheridan, the SWP and the CWI) while the majority stayed in the SSP. Together they had six MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. Both urged a vote for pro-independence parties in the elections. Both parties lost all their seats as their vote collapsed and their votes mainly went to the Scottish Nationalist Party.


Initially the SSP won support of the RMT in Scotland and had support from trade unionists, but essentially it saw the class struggle in Britain as being divided into two separate nations and there was no revolutionary tendency that could seek to defend the right of self-determination but with the perspective of uniting the working class in Britain in the struggle against war and privatisation.


The leadership of the CR went further and betrayed in Italy, as is explained by the section that broke from the CR and joined the IWL-FI; but in Scotland also, the SSP programme subordinated a proletarian internationalist outlook to national pressures.


 


Trade Union support for the undocumented


 


Employers and Government are creating numerous tiers of workers on different wages and conditions. The most exploited being the undocumented workers including asylum seekers. There is an imperative need for the trade unions to organise all workers in unity on the basis of the right to work for all workers, against the employers who always sought to develop and deepen the divides. The historic experience in the British working class goes back to ‘The International Workingmen’s Association’ (the 1st International) which was formed, in part, out the need of British, and French workers to stop the exploitation of foreign labour. That work was continued in the early history of the 2nd International amongst others by Eleanor Marx.[4]


The only way the unions are going to build a fighting movement that will reverse the many attacks that they face is by turning to help the self-organisation and unionisation of these workers, many of whom work for less than the minimum wage and who suffer the greatest exploitation.


Blair and Brown have created a barbarous system against undocumented workers. But in March this year unprecedented support was given to a campaign for a Biafran from Nigeria who was to be deported. It was stopped at the last minute and with the unprecedented support of five union general secretaries. That was only possible because of pressure from trade unionists created through the struggle to move the unions in the which the International Socialist League played a leading role. This struggle came from the demand to end all immigration controls and the need for unions to open their doors to all the undocumented. 


The demand to end all immigration laws is not supported by either Respect or Campaign for a New Workers Party. Yet the only way to organise workers is on the basis of unity – all irrespective of immigration status, legal or so-called ‘illegal’. No union today can successfully unionise workforces without disregarding whatever label New Labour has imposed on workers because of where they were born or where they come from.


 


Opposition to job losses and wage cuts


 


In 2004 Brown announced 104,000 job losses to be carried through over a few years.  It is the public sector who are at the forefront in 2006. The majority of days of strike action was in the area of public administration.


 


As we write the Communication Workers Union (CWU) ballot, in which 67% of the membership participated, 77% voted for strike action against Gordon Brown’s pay offer of 2.5%, which compared to the latest inflation figures of 4.5% is effectively a pay cut. The Post Office is planning to cut 40,000 jobs, close delivery offices and mail centres. A national Post Office strike would be the first for 11 years.


 


Nearly 750,000 days of strike action were made in 2006, “.total was significantly higher than the 157,400 days lost in 2005 but lower than the 905,000 lost in 2004. It was also higher than the average total lost per year in the 1990s (660,000) but much lower than the averages for the 1980s (7.2 million) and the 1970s (12.9 million).” [5]


 


It is unlikely to be long before the struggles of the working class increase and explode. Its appearance and tempo will be determined by the international situation not only in Iraq but in the tensions arising out of conflicts between imperialisms. It will be determined by the working class internationally and the ability of the British working class to begin its struggle and link internationally. To defeat its enemies it will have to re-learn the lessons of its revolutionary history and actions including, as Trotsky highlighted, the history of its Chartist movement in the nineteenth Century and the history of its forebearers in the leveller wing of the Bourgeois revolution in the Seventeenth Century.






[1] Matthew Tempest, political correspondent, Thursday May 10, 2007, Guardian Unlimited



[2] PFI contracts last for 25 to 30 years. The NHS will run out of money before all the repayments to these firms will be met.



[3] Computer firms have failed to provide a solution but have cost billions. One estimate is that the cost of computer contracts will reach £30 billion.



[4] Yvonne Kapp explains this history in her biography on Eleanor Marx.



[5] National Statistics, www.statistics.gov.uk