Labour - a safe pair of hands

New Labour’s new respectability will enable it to sail into office - but at our expense

It now looks certain that 1997 will see the election of a Blair Labour government.

Riding an unprecedented wave of a massive and enduring opinion poll lead over the Tories, New Labour announced last week that its membership now numbers 400,000. Although still far short of the one million total it enjoyed in the 50s and way below the 750,000 claimed by the Conservative Party, the membership has risen steadily and consistently since Tony Blair won the party leadership in 1994.

All this gives the lie to the belief of much of the left that the adoption of socialist policies would provide the only guarantee of a Labour victory: ‘If only Blair would fight for workers,’ they maintained throughout the 80s, ‘they would be swept into power.’ Yet undoubtedly the present leadership, with the most rightwing, viciously anti-working class plans the party has ever known, looks destined to take over in Downing Street.

The truth is that new Labour has discovered that there is a much surer way of coming to power than through promising reforms to the workers. It lies in transforming itself into a party that the ruling class views with complete equanimity, if not positive approval. In normal times that counts for much more than the support of the trade unions.

The influx of middle class members, more and more replacing Labour’s working class base, is playing its part in the transformation. Any trace of activism is being wiped out, as the leadership looks set to abolish the decision making power of local management committees and stripping unions and affiliated organisations of local influence, replacing this with ‘one member, one vote’ - and the members will be the stay-at-home supporters of Blair, passively accepting the party line.

Of course Labour is also benefiting from the total bankruptcy of the Tories. Even large sections of the bourgeoisie want a change of team. The Conservatives’ divisions, particularly over Europe, are holding up their ability to compete internationally.

Overwhelmingly the British people are desperate to get rid of the Tories, and there is a certain degree of enthusiasm for the only party that looks able to pull it off. Over and over again we encounter working people who just refuse to believe that New Labour is only promising more of the same. They want to cling onto their hopes that there will be at least some relief to the anti-working class onslaught.

As 1996 drew to a close further Labour schemes to tighten the screw on workers were released. Both employed and unemployed workers will be hit by the latest big idea for clamping down on our rights and forcing the jobless into slave labour ‘workfare’. The party’s chief employment spokesperson, Ian McCartney, is drawing up plans for compulsory work for the unemployed, on pain of losing their benefit. Not even the homeless will escape New Labour’s clutches. Tony Blair has declared war on so-called “aggressive beggars”, as part of his campaign of “zero tolerance” towards petty crime. Not surprisingly, John Major is annoyed that Blair is stealing his ideas - he said exactly the same two years ago.

This is being portrayed as representing a significant advance for the working class, as it is being linked to Labour’s minimum wage plans. Workfare victims will be paid at the minimum wage level - certain to be set at between £3 and £3.50 an hour. So for around £140 a week thousands of workers will be compelled to take up anything that is put before them. If this scheme meets with any success, it will have a knock-on effect on all wages.

So a scheme that is hailed as relieving poverty will in fact be used to intensify it.

There should be no more calls from leftists to vote Labour despite all their rotten plans. Let us do all in our power to warn workers of the fresh attacks that await them and prepare to organise the fightback. By taking such a stand the Socialist Labour Party will leave itself well placed to profit from workers’ disgust and disillusionment that is sure to follow a Blair victory.

Peter Manson