Not all roses for Blair

TONY BLAIR’S plans for a ‘market-friendly’ clause four were undermined last week when Unison voted to retain the ‘nationalisation-friendly’ clause. The decision to oppose the Blairite rewrite was taken at a private delegate conference on April 13, where the final vote stood at 55-47. This must have come as a blow to the rightist National Political Committee of Unison which had recommended acceptance of the Labour NEC endorsed draft (albeit, of course, with reservations). The rewrite was rejected by delegates from all of Unison’s regions and a Unison spokeswoman confirmed that the vote will be binding on Unison’s delegation to the Blair instigated Special Labour Conference on April 29.

By all accounts the Labour big-wigs had been counting on Unison’s support, which will command 11.7% of the union bloc vote at the conference. The Unison decision must have sent the Blairites scurrying to their pocket calculators, as the unions as a whole will account for 70% of the votes, with the rest going to the constituencies.

The Transport and General Workers’ Union, with 14% of the vote, is ‘committed’ (watch this space) to opposing the rewrite, while the MSF - which will wield 3.8% of the vote - has not yet made a final decision. Taking into account all the smaller unions with two per cent of the vote and less, the new clause four is unlikely to attract more than 60% of the union vote - and it could be a lot less. All is not rosy in the Blairite garden, even if the green shoots are highly visible.

It was not too surprising that Unison should reject the ‘market-friendly’ clause four, with its celebration of the “enterprise of the market” and “the rigours of competition”. Unison members in local government and the health service have been particularly hit by the Tory government’s enforcement of compulsory competitive tendering and other market-driven policies, which have forced down wages and seen a steady worsening of working conditions. No wonder that several of the delegates at the April 13 conference said they were “repelled” by Tony Blair’s rewrite, with its evangelical glorification of capitalism.

However we should not look upon the Unison vote as a victory in any real sense, no matter how much we enjoy seeing the Blairites squirm and wiggle. It is all very well for Arthur Scargill to breathlessly declare, “We are now in striking distance of winning the union vote at the Labour Party conference”, but rushing to the defence of the anti-communist inspired ‘old’ clause four against the free-market inspired ‘new’ clause four does not advance genuine socialism by one jot.

Militant rank and file members of Unison should be fighting to make their union independent from all bourgeois political parties - which, naturally, includes the Labour Party - and to transform it into an effective fighting machine which is not afraid to take on the bosses.

There are grounds for optimism. A leaked internal report from Unison, quoted in The Independent (April 15), states: “It is widely accepted that the current clause four does not express our values and beliefs clearly”. The Communist Party would give a hearty ‘amen’ to that!

Eddie Ford