Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Blair's Red Hot Autumn? posted by Richard SeymourEven if Brendan Barber were to drop his bags and unceremoniously guff in the Prime Minister's face today, you can still count on him insisting on outstaying his welcome, like he does everywhere else. And he will certainly babble on about globalisation, and open versus closed societies, and modernity, and what he believes - whether "quite frankly" or "sincerely" - and all of the usual verbless verbiage and Blairite bricolage. Yet, he could be in for a rough time. NHS workers have voted overwhelmingly for national strike action over privatisation. The PCS is threatening another national strike over salaries. Union leaders are being moved by grassroots pressure to say something, dammit, about how awful this government has been for working people. The privatisation deal for the NHS involves allowing DHL to run the logistics department that supplies and equips hospitals. Yes, DHL - the fucking courier company. If their present delivery record is anything to go by, your dialysis machine will be held in a storehouse until you finally call them from an increasingly wretched urology department and are instructed that they tried to deliver it five times while you were out. Your iron lung is almost certain to become a plaything for bottom-feeding ocean-dwellers, and those incubators will be left for collection in the hazardous waste bin.
There is also huge anger about what is being done to pensions, an issue that is bound to recur throughout the conference. The CBI has stuck an early oar in, urging Brown not to extend workers' rights, as if the most fanatical free market chancellor in recent British history is about to do that. They're particularly worried that the unions want collective bargaining rights over pensions and full employment rights for the growing number of temporary workers in the UK. And maybe they're concerned that Brown might, in his bid to be leader, say something rash or get people's hopes up by merely implying something.
This conference should be, has to be, a springboard for action on pensions and privatisation. The union leadership doesn't want to embarrass Blair, even those who entertain some crashingly naive hopes in Brown. But I suspect the mood on the conference floor will be angry, and I'm willing to bet that the reaction to Blair's speech will reflect that.