After a generation of retreat and decline, the trade unions are once more starting to command the public agenda and become a major force in political and social life in the UK. The bitter firefighters' dispute, following the major strikes by local government employees and railway and tube workers, is the most recent indication of this return. Another is the unbroken run of victories in union elections for left--wing candidates, including the sensational defeat of the leading Blairite in the trade union movement, Sir Ken Jackson, in the ballot for the leadership of Amicus-AEEU, and the election of Tony Woodley to head the TGWU. These developments suggest the unions are emerging from a long period of slumber. At stake are not only the reigning industrial relations dogmas of recent years--"social partnership" and "sweetheart deals" with employers--but also the future of New Labour. The new union leaders are militant in promoting members' economic interests and also support a radical political agenda, calling for both a halt to privatization and vociferous opposition to the Blair-Bush war.
Now, as New Labour enters its seventh year in office, it faces new hostility, and open calls for the resignation of the Prime Minister. "Tony Blair is above all a war premier; he has used British armed forces five times in his period of office. He has wrapped this up in a rhetoric which harks back to nineteenth-century colonialism. His attacks - both real and painful - on social justice in Britain are as nothing compared to the dangers of his foreign policy. Both policies, foreign and domestic, essentially serve the same interests - that of the rich and powerful in Britain and around the world. Britain's labour movement could make no better contribution to the common good than bringing the Blair era to a close."
Andrew Murray has worked as head of communications for the TGWU and for the train drivers union ASLEF, and is the Chair of the Stop the War Coalition. He is the author of Flashpoint: World War 3, and Off the Rails: The Crisis on Britain's Railways.