Year 2000 No. 96, June 7, 2000

Issues Raised at the CWU Conference

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

Issues Raised at the CWU Conference

News In Brief
US-EU Trade Disputes Dominate WTO
Land Rover Recall
Rover Cuts Price of Cars by 10%
NUT Leaders Block Strike Ballot

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Issues Raised at the CWU Conference

Two serious issues have been raised at the Communications Workers’ Union conference.

One concerns the link between the trade unions and the Labour Party and the political levy which goes to fund that Party. The second was the concern about the direction of the Post Office and the issue of whether an agenda of privatisation would be implemented.

At the CWU annual conference, the delegates overwhelmingly turned down a proposed increase in the political levy from 10p to 12p a week, or from 45p to 55p a month, as recommended by the NEC. The increase would have given the Labour Party an extra £200,000 a year. But speakers from the 1,400 delegates who attended the conference supported arguments that, for example, to accept the rise would be to endorse the government’s policies in only increasing the pension by 75p a week, in introducing university tuition fees, and its refusal to repeal anti-trade-union laws. It was argued that a serious look should be given to the Labour Party’s next election manifesto before committing more money to the Party.

Such a stand indicates that serious consideration is being given by the workers to the role of the Labour Party. It is necessary that the workers consider this matter more deeply. For example, could it not be said that it is the link of the organised trade unions with the Labour Party that is contributing to the marginalisation of the workers from the political affairs of society, from setting their own agenda and taking the lead in finding the way out of the crisis of capitalist society? One hundred years ago, when the Labour Representation Committee was formed, which gave rise to the Labour Party in 1906, there was both a need for the rights and interests of the workers and their trade unions to be represented within parliament and also a demand that the workers should have their own independent party, independent that is of property, commercial and banking interests that were coalescing and being concentrated in the financial oligarchy. A whole century has passed, and today’s society is one which is geared in every conceivable way to serving the interests of that very financial oligarchy, the rich. It is from the rich that the demand has its origin that the workers support their programme of competing in the global marketplace. What role is the Labour Party playing in these circumstances? Far from it being the case that it is representing the interests of the workers and organisations which fight for their interests, far from it being the case that it is independent of the interests of the rich, it has become irreversibly transformed into a Party which has jettisoned any vestige of socialism and social ownership of the means of production. It is acting as the salesperson of the demands and interests of the monopolies, summed up in the call that competition in the global economy is everything, and has formulated its Third Way doctrine as the preferred programme of the rich at this time. It has consolidated the party system of government and is further reforming it so that the people are depoliticised and kept away from making the decisions which affect their lives.

When the objective need in society is to lift it out of the crisis, change the direction of the economy and solve its problems in favour of the people, it is once more a crying need that the workers take up their leading role. As a component part of this, it is once more a demand of the times that the workers have their own independent mass party. At the CWU conference, Stephen Byers, Trade and Industry Secretary, spoke of the national interest and policies which serve it. But what is this "national interest" he is speaking of? Is there such a thing which can be identified? Competing in the global market is not a policy for the national interest, in the sense of a programme to lift society out of the crisis. It is a programme for paying the rich and serving their interests, and covering this over with a veneer of "opportunity for all". National interest could be said to exist if and when the working class itself asserted itself as the leading class of the nation, and put the assets of the country under its control so that the people’s claims can be met.

This leads on to the second serious issue that was raised by the CWU conference. The delegates voted to break the link with the Labour Party, that is, to withdraw support from Labour, "financial and moral", if the government ever privatised the Post Office, in full or in part. Derek Hodgson, the union’s general secretary, had held up the piece of paper containing the government pledge on public ownership of the Post Office, which some delegates likened to Neville Chamberlain’s infamous action after appeasing Hitler at Munich and promising "peace in our time". Then the Trade and Industry Secretary himself came before conference to pledge that Britain’s Post Office "will remain 100 per cent publicly owned". Leaving aside whether this pledge also is worth the paper it is printed on, the question arises as to whether this aim is the real issue, whether it gets to the heart of what the CWU delegates and society as a whole is demanding of the Post Office.

The clear sentiment of the workers and other democratic forces in society in insisting to the government that public ownership should be safeguarded is that the Post Office should be a service meeting the needs of society rather than being a vehicle for the amassing of private wealth. But the restructuring of the Post Office through the Postal Services Bill at present going through parliament, together with the directives of the European Union on deregulation of national postal services, openly have the aim of opening up postal services to the dictates of the global market, to the aim of the monopolies to compete in the making of maximum capitalist profits. The fact that it is the government which has the ownership of the Post Office when it becomes a plc, rather than private shareholders, will not alter the aim of the restructured Post Office. The government is actually bringing the structure of the Post Office into line with its aim, which will be consolidated as that of being competitive, of making profits. While other postal monopolies will compete for the British market, the Post Office, as it is already doing, will also compete abroad for markets. Profits will be appropriated by the rich in either case. Funds will be channelled through government and will find their way directly into the pockets of the financial oligarchy.

It is therefore important to understand that this "Third Way" solution of neither privatisation nor nationalisation, but "public ownership" as a public limited company, is entirely in line with the government’s programme of running public services so that the rich benefit, of public-private partnership, of PFI, of private concerns directly running social programmes, as in health and education. This goes hand in hand with cutting back government funding for these services.

This situation underlines the urgency and correctness of the call, the independent programme of the working class, to Stop Paying the Rich – Increase Investments in Social Programmes!

Article Index


News In Brief

US-EU Trade Disputes Dominate WTO

Trade disputes between the world’s two biggest trading blocs have dominated the disputes settlement panel of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO says that since it was set up in 1995, 110 of the 194 trade complaints brought before it were from either the US (60) or the EU (50). This is far more than the 50 brought by all developing countries, and confirms that the big power blocs of the US and the EU are increasingly using the WTO as the theatre for their global competition, and that the contradictions between these two, as well as the other big powers, is increasing.

Despite rulings by a WTO independent panel, there are still serious outstanding trade issues between the EU and the US where decisions have not been accepted by either side, causing trade tensions to escalate, and creating a dangerous situation for the world’s people.

Land Rover Recall

Thousands of Land Rovers are being recalled for modification after the carmaker discovered a number of engine faults. Ten thousand Discovery and Defender TD5 vehicles are being recalled because of a problem with engine flywheels and clutch systems. Land Rover is also recalling a further 1,300 Discovery Series 2 V8 models.

The company was recently sold by BMW to Ford for £1.8 billion. Ford has said it may carry out a major restructuring of Land Rover.

Rover Cuts Price of Cars by 10%

Rover has announced average price cuts of 10% on all of its British models as part of a bid to boost sales under new owner Phoenix. Rover Group said customers would receive discounts on all Rover, Mini and MG cars, with savings of between £900 and £2,675.

A spokesperson for Phoenix said: "The UK market is incredibly fierce, but we have been improving the price and position of the cars over the last 18 months. The sales figures year-on-year are 15 to 20% up. We are also beginning to see a ray of light in Europe, where sterling is beginning to help our cause."

Meanwhile, Rover has agreed a marketing deal with Posthouse, which will give guests checking in at the group’s hotels this summer the chance to win one of 12 new Rover 75 cars. Posthouse, which owns 80 properties around Britain, is aiming to increase the number of customers staying at its hotels by 7%.

It has also just been announced that the sale of Rover cars has fallen since the Phoenix take-over. A spokesperson attributed this to the uncertainty there had been over the future of Rover.

NUT Leaders Block Strike Ballot

The leadership of the National Union of Teachers has over-ruled a vote in support of a summer strike ballot which was taken at the NUT’s annual conference in April. General secretary Doug McAvoy said that the union’s executive has now refused to accept the conference decision, which he attacked as "political posturing" by unrepresentative militants.

In a letter to members, Doug McAvoy says that the "union is now free of the distraction of a one-day strike" and will pursue its campaign against performance pay through the courts. The union executive said that the strike ballot has been rejected because there is insufficient support and that a strike would antagonise parents.

Doug McAvoy said, "This union’s campaign against payment by results, performance-related pay goes on. But it goes on against a background of a government which has a large majority and remains popular."

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