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WORKERS, OCT 2005 ISSUE
IT IS HARD for the political pundits. Every time a party conference comes round, they need to think of something new to say. That must be the only excuse for the surprise that Gordon Brown is now promising to carry on the "New Labour" programme. After all, he has been Chancellor of the Exchequer for the entire disastrous period since 1997, organising the funding for Blair's counter-revolution.
And this month Brown is leading a joint G8/European Union "initiative" to Israel and the Palestine Authority. Presumably, the trip will give him foreign policy experience, or at least a foreign policy profile. At present, that profile consists principally of his interview with the Daily Mail on 15 January this year, when he said that there were a lot of positive things to say about the British Empire.
The Palestinians will have the benefit of Brown's advice on how to tackle unemployment and poverty! Given his record in Britain, with a widening gap between rich and poor, they may well be a little sceptical.
If — as seems the case — a clutch of supine trade union general secretaries have been pinning their hopes on a Brown premiership reversing some of the damage Blair has wreaked on Britain, then they will be sorely disappointed.
What, though, of the millions of workers still in trade unions, and workers in general? Do we still believe that a saviour will arise from the Labour front bench (or, indeed, from the Labour Party at all)? That all that is needed is a new occupant at Number 10?
The history of the British labour movement shows an inbuilt tendency to seek the easy way out. That was why the unions formed the Labour Party in the first place — to do (or not) what the unions dared not do themselves: fight for real class power.
Over the century since then, workers have developed avoidance into an art form. Witness the spectacle at the start of the year of unions organising strike ballots over pensions, in the full knowledge that an election was coming and that they would announce a "climbdown" from the government.
Well, take a look now (see article, p 6). The unions are back to square one, or actually a few squares further back.
Now scroll forwards a few months, and imagine what will happen unless workers organise in their workplaces and in their branches to take the fight to the employers. Leave it to the generals, and there will be strike ballots, big majorities for action, and then everything will be called off because Brown either is thought to be about to become prime minister, or actually has gone into Number 10. Don't embarrass him in the run-up, and give him a chance while he's PM. Then, lo and behold, another election will come round and it will be back to the beginning again.
It doesn't have to be like that. But as a working class we will have to start facing truths that we have been avoiding for a century or more. All reactionaries are the same: if you don't hit them, they won't fall. Worse than that, if you don't hit them, then they will certainly hit you all the harder. There are no saviours but we ourselves.