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Year 2001 No. 37, February 27, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

Tony Blair in Canada Attempts to Justify the Unjustifiable

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Tony Blair in Canada Attempts to Justify the Unjustifiable

Workers and Politics:
The Conditions of the Call Centre Workers
Shipyard Worker Jobs Depend on Government's Guarantee Credit Arrangement
Why Should the Jobs of Shipyard Workers Depend on the Government Underwriting Loans for the Finance Capitalists?

The National Shutdown of Further and Higher Education

G7 Whistle in the Wind

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Tony Blair in Canada Attempts to Justify the Unjustifiable

On his way to visit US President George W Bush, Tony Blair stopped in Ottawa for a 24-hour stay. The Prime Minister spoke to a joint session of the Canadian Parliament on February 22.

In his speech, Blair emphasised the position of Britain as a "bridge" between the US and the European Union, and he referred to the role which Canada plays in helping Britain consolidate this position. He stated, "I have a belief, formed in theory, but now far more powerfully reinforced after four years practical experience as Prime Minister, that where the two sides of the Atlantic stand together, the world is a more secure, stable and prosperous planet."

He went on to describe the values which unite Britain with Canada. He said, "We know that what binds us together is a common belief in the values of institutionalised democracy, the benefits of the rule of law, the primacy of the market as the engine for growth, the belief in a strong and inclusive society to correct the market's injustices, the creative power of individualism and the ultimate need to protect human rights."

This is the list of so-called shared values which has been entrusted to the Labour government by the British ruling class to implement its neo-liberal agenda of globalisation and free trade to enrich the British monopolies and to intensify the anti-social offensive against the working class and people. This is the vision and programme of the "Third Way". Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in introducing Tony Blair, said Britain and Canada share a "common ground" on this topic. He said that while the "Third Way" is a way to arrive at "unique British solutions to emerging challenges", Canada has the "Canadian Way". "This is just a 21st century example of the common ground that has long characterised the relationship between our nations," Jean Chretien said.

The "Third Way", which is also manifested in Canada as the "Canadian Way", is the vision and programme of the bourgeoisie to make the monopolies successful in the global market and enrich the financial oligarchy, as well as an attempt to liquidate the independent movement of the working class and people by conciliating it with the neo-liberal agenda. At the same time, it is a programme to criminalise any and all opposition to it. This is precisely the "common ground" that the imperialists share.

Tony Blair went on to say in his speech that Britain and Canada "share something else. You are that part of North America closest in values and traditions of Europe. We are that part of Europe closest to North America. We both are part of and support strongly the transatlantic alliance, Europe and North America." This emphasises the role Britain and Canada play in doing the bidding of US imperialism in Europe and the Americas.

Tony Blair continued his speech by outlining his wish to try to reconcile the interests of the two imperialist powers, the US and the European Union.

He said, "I speak to you first and foremost as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. British, proud to be so, truly ambitious for Britain, determined to see our potential fulfilled. I speak to you as a committed Atlanticist. I speak to you also as a European, unshakeable in my view that Britain's future is as a leading player in Europe, a powerful force for good, and a force for reform, in the European Union."

He continued, "There are those in my country who say it is not possible to be all these things. You can have Europe, or you can have North America, but you can't have both. Britain has to choose."

His reply to them is: "It is an article of my political faith that I refuse point blank to do so. We will have the best of both worlds. We will give up neither relationship. We will make them both work. And we will make them work not just for Britain but for the alliance itself."

This statement shows that the British government has not given up its ambition to play a leading role on the world stage to "make Britain great again". Tony Blair intends to do this by continuing to be a willing agent of US imperialism and using his position in the EU to try to push US interests, especially when it comes to military matters and imperialist aggression such as in Iraq. At the same time, he is trying to reconcile the contradiction between the two imperialist forces in areas such as free trade. Later on in his speech he discussed the various trading blocs throughout the world. Tony Blair pointed out that the EU and NAFTA are the world's largest trading blocs and the world's biggest free traders. In 1999, EU exports to NAFTA were £137 billion and imports from NAFTA were £121 billion. "And yet relations are not as they should be. Proposals for a Transatlantic Free Trade Area in 1996 came to nothing," he said. The Prime Minister continued, "Despite ever closer economic links our trade relations have become bedevilled by disputes over issues like beef and bananas, and damaged both our interests."

Tony Blair then proposed that the EU and NAFTA draw up a political declaration of intent on trade. "This should be reinforced by an EU/NAFTA commitment to go further within the WTO framework to break down non-tariff barriers. In areas like insurance and professional services, liberalisation is massively in our joint interests."

Tony Blair also defended a proposal for the European Rapid Reaction Force. According to him, the purpose of this new military force "is limited to crisis management, peace-keeping and humanitarian tasks".

In an attempt to put opponents amongst the ruling circles in North America at ease, Tony Blair said, "It is not therefore a standing Army. There will be no separate EU military planning structures. And it applies only where NATO has chosen not to act collectively."

He continued, "It has, however, two potential benefits. First, it allows Europe – for example, in crises on or within Europe's border – to act where the US does not wish to. … Second, it puts pressure on Europe to increase its defence capability, something long desired by our allies in North America."

In this way, Tony Blair is meeting the US’s demand that Europe pay a greater share for defence, while not challenging US control of NATO. But Tony Blair's dream of "having the best of both worlds" cannot overcome the inter-imperialist contradictions that emerge on the basis of the competing interests of the imperialist powers. More than this, its aim is to block the struggle for progress.

The Prime Minister concluded his speech by attacking outright the movement against neo-liberal globalisation. He said, "Finally, on trade, it's time we started to argue vigorously and clearly for free trade." Turning truth on its head, Tony Blair said, "It's the key to jobs for our people, prosperity and to development in the poorest parts of the world. The case against it is misguided and, worse, unfair. However sincere the protests, they cannot be allowed to stand in the way of rational argument." At a time when the Canadian state is militarising Quebec City in preparation for the Summit of the Americas and preparing conditions to suppress civil liberties, Tony Blair said, "We must start to make this case with force and determination."

The working class can be under no illusion that the "Third Way", and its Canadian counterpart the "Canadian Way", are a means to solve the problems facing society. On the contrary, the "Third Way" is a justification to block and criminalise the struggles of the people for progress, including those directed against the reactionary programme and vision of the "Third Way" itself.

Article Index

———Workers and Politics ———

This is the column of WDIE on the conditions of the workers and on the agenda the workers themselves are setting to overcome their marginalisation and to take up politics. We encourage all our readers to contribute to the politicisation of the workers and write for this column

The Conditions of the Call Centre Workers

The TUC Campaign It’s your call, launched at the beginning of February, included a freephone hotline for call centre workers to report on the conditions in their workplaces. Over 400 calls were taken in the operation that concluded on February 23. They revealed what was expected, and what is clear to workers from their own experience. Working life is for the most part inhumane, entails insults to one’s dignity and the loss of honour and self-esteem. With such emotions goes the feeling of helplessness and stress, which is the companion of an economy that has as its main aim the making of maximum capitalist profit.

The TUC reports that British Telecom has launched a blueprint for "best practice" in their own call centres in co-operation with the Communication Workers Union. The blueprint promotes an end to the acknowledged oppressive and exploitative hallmark of the industry and their replacement with team rather than individual targets, a lessening of the pressure to minimise call times and introduction of flexible working arrangements to suit workers and BT.

Life itself has revealed that the aim of "partnership" between employers and employees is not that of improving the conditions of the workers. Its raison d’être is the drive to maintain maximum capitalist profits. Its modus operandi is the stepped up exploitation of the workers. Such exploitation is witnessed in the immediate sense of the graphic bad practice of call centre industry that the TUC report highlights, and in the overall sense in the destruction of the national economy.

It’s your call highlights the pressure put on workers in the call centre industry that unionise or collectively organise to defend their interests. Indeed the majority of callers to the freephone hotline were non-unionised workers, and the TUC points out that the 44% of workers who are in unions work in the public sector, financial services and the privatised utilities.

New Labour and TUC have been promoting "partnership" principles for some time to conciliate the class struggle and contain the emergence of workplace organisations that fight for the interests of their members. BT’s best practice for call centres can be seen in such a context. The conclusion the TUC draws from the exploitation and humiliation of the workers at call centres is that the bad apples should follow the example of the call centres which "treat their staff with respect", while the not so bad should continue with their efforts to "clean up their act". Then, the implication is, everything will be fine – the unions will gain members and the call centres will be partners with these members in making the business successful.

The conclusion that the life experience of the workers suggests should be drawn, however, is that the problem is not to reform the bad apples. It is that workers have constantly to fight for their interests and that the principle of "partnership" must be rejected. It is a straightforward matter of the dignity of human beings. The bad apples are constantly being created by the drive to make business competitive. The same issue goes for other industries such as the construction industry where workers' very lives are put on the line, and the TUC is also calling for a partnership between employers, unions and government as the way to solve the problem.

The conditions in such sectors of the economy as call centres and the construction industry must continue to be ruthlessly exposed. Such exposure will further emphasise that all round in society pressure is being put on the workers to give up their rights and interests both collectively and individually. The conclusion can only be that workers should get further organised to defend their rights and interests and discuss how the direction of the economy must be changed so that the well-being of the workers and the general interests of society as a whole can become the driving force.

WDIE wholeheartedly supports the struggles of the call centre workers for their dignity and an end to their exploitation and oppression.

Article Index

Shipyard Worker Jobs Depend on Government's Guarantee Credit Arrangement

The jobs of shipyard workers in Liverpool and on Tyneside are again under threat. The government's loan guarantee arrangement for a £350 order for ships by Luxus, a US company, to build the ships mainly at Cammell Laird's Liverpool and Hebburn yards has not been agreed by either company.

Cammell Laird employs 800 workers on Tyneside and more than 1,500 jobs are thought to depend on the contract at the Liverpool and Hebburn yards of Cammell Laird. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) under its Home Shipbuilding Guarantee Credit Scheme had made an offer to underwrite 60% of the deal that would allow Luxus to borrow enough money to build the ships. But the deal means that Cammell Laird must also agree to refund the government and private investors a share of the total value of the deal if it collapses. According to reports this was originally to be 50% a refund of £174 but this had then been reduced by the DTI to 30% a refund of £104 million. The new figure still represents more than the assets of Cammell Laird, which stood at £63.4 million in 2000, and the company has rejected this new arrangement as well. A government spokesman said that they had made a good offer but were now considering the responses from both Luxus and Cammell Laird.

Article Index

Why Should the Jobs of Shipyard Workers Depend on the Government Underwriting Loans for the Finance Capitalists?

The situation at Cammell Laird shows how ship production, which should form a vital part of the national economy, is more and more dependent on securing the most favourable and guaranteed returns to the finance capitalists.

The government and the state works in "partnership" with finance companies using the treasury to bankroll and secure guaranteed profits for this financial oligarchy. The Home Shipbuilding Credit Guarantee Scheme is operated for DTI by the Ship Mortgage Finance Company plc, a subsidiary of 3i plc and guaranteed loans are available for up to 80% of contract value and 85% Mobile Offshore Installations for oil and gas companies. The 3i Group plc had gross assets of £573 million in its 2000 balance sheet. Cammell Laird had gross assets of £63 in 2000 in its 2000 balance sheet. Yet the government has stipulated that it is Cammell Laird that will have to repay £104 million if the US company Luxus defaults on the deal.

New Labour, as with the Conservatives before them, always try to present themselves as the "party of business". Yet the truth is that it is big business and in particular the finance capitalists that the government represents and serves.

For the shipyard workers fighting for their interests is not just about fighting to secure the work for their yards. It means opposing this whole situation which marginalises them from having any say in what is produced and how it is funded. Guaranteeing the profits of finance capitalists in the global market is not in the interest of society and is a disastrous course, which is destroying the national economy. This is the course which New Labour and all the big parties are on.

For the workers, taking up politics means fighting for their interests which are the general interests of society. Such interests are for a modern shipbuilding industry that contributes to a society where the people are empowered to take the decisions and where the whole economy is run to meet the needs of the people.

Article Index

The National Shutdown of Further and Higher Education
1 March 2001

In January, the National Union of Students produced a national shutdown briefing for March 1, which is this Thursday. We are reproducing extracts from the briefing below.

Background and rationale

At the start of the Winter Term 2000, the NUS National Executive Committee announced the start of a nationwide ballot of students’ unions, recommending further mass action to fight fees. In the largest ever NUS ballot, the NEC voted in favour of a National Shutdown of Further and Higher Education (FHE) and gave students’ unions the chance to decide whether to support a national demonstration and shutdown.

An overwhelming majority of students’ unions, over 160 colleges and universities, voted in favour.

Why the Shutdown?

The last time there was a Shutdown of higher education, (March 1998) it was a huge success, with campuses coming to a standstill across the United Kingdom and sending a clear message to Parliament. This time we want the government to re-think on the issue of fees and grants.

The education shutdown will show the government what seminar rooms and lecture theatres will look like if they continue to press on with top-up fees – deserted.

Following the National Demonstration in November 2000 which involved over 17,000 students, the Shutdown gives us the opportunity to highlight our message to would-be students, to parents, the public, the media and of course, the Government.

With the participation of all student unions across the country, over two million students could be involved, making this the most dramatic action in the anti-fees campaign to date.

NUS has written to all the further and higher education (FHE) trade unions who have all offered support for the Shutdown and indeed are planning action themselves to improve funding in FHE. We are also writing to all vice-chancellors explaining what is going on and why we are taking this action.

What is the Shutdown?

The Shutdown involves students not attending lessons in universities and colleges across the country. It is vital that the students’ union secures agreement from the institution that students will not be academically penalised for this action - which is their right. In addition, each students’ union should contact all the staff unions and heads of department to inform them of the action and enlist their support.

Students’ unions will stay open as a focus for campaign activity on the day and students should be encouraged to call into the students’ union to take part in protest activity.

Where practical, NUS is asking members to gather outside entrances to academic buildings to persuade fellow students to boycott lectures. NUS is not able to sanction any attempts to stop normal college activities, such as deliveries of goods, entrance of staff or any physical attempts to force students not to enter college buildings. There is more detailed information on the legal situation on pickets later in this briefing.

Suggested activities for the FHE Shutdown

Below is a list of activities that could be undertaken as part of the Shutdown timetable for activity:

Put up posters around campus advertising the day

Organise a stall for students to write postcards to your local MPs

Organise students to picket/leaflet outside the entrances to the college to explain the activities and persuade students not to attend lessons

Arrange a visit to your local MP for the following day, presenting them with the signed postcards from your members

Write to the local media urging them to cover the Shutdown

Arrange stunts/events for the day e.g. release balloons to signify the support for the campaign, decorate the students’ union or campaign headquarters with balloons, posters and other publicity, organise social activities in the students’ union on the day and evening of the Shutdown to encourage them to come and take part in the campaign activities

Leaflet all the clubs and societies’ chairs to get their support for the Shutdown

Invite NEC members to events on the day - contact Trish Breadmore on 0207 561 6510 with details

On the day of the Shutdown

Leaflet all the halls of residence with a wake up leaflet telling them not to attend lectures

Decorate the students’ union (or alternative venue) so all students are aware it is the campaign headquarters

Ensure there are students at all the college entrances

Organise a media stunt - e.g. shutdown the power in the students’ union for a minute to signify the end of free tuition, or organise a balloon release

The aftermath

Tell NUS how your Shutdown went – how many students participated? How many lecture theatres were deserted? Did your lecturers, VCs or principals support you?

Some legal issues

In order to be effective on the day of the Shutdown you need to be aware of certain facts of law.


We would encourage you to organise groups of students to peacefully explain the reasons for the Shutdown. However there are limits to this:

Students should not attempt to physically prevent entry to buildings or rooms. Any physical restraint is likely to lead to, or itself constitute, a breach of the peace or a public order offence. Physically blocking access is also likely to constitute a civil wrong for which participants could be sued in the civil courts.

Students should not try and stop lecturers and other institutional staff entering buildings, and lecture halls, even by non-physical means. If they did, they would be inducing them to breach their employment contracts, which is a civil wrong. Industrial relations law grants immunity to certain participants in lawful industrial action from being sued in the civil courts. However, this immunity only extends to employees (at the place being picketed) and their trade union representatives.

Participating students should not carry offensive weapons.

Participants should not use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour which are likely to provide a breach of the peace. The Public Order Act 1986 s5 makes it a criminal offence to use "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour" or to display "any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening or abusive or insulting" where someone present is "likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby". However, if the words or behaviour are reasonable in the circumstances then they will be acceptable. On the whole, as long as participants stick to political statements rather than personal abuse, they should not fall foul of the Act.

It is unlikely the police would feel the need to get involved, but if they did then it is an offence to obstruct a police officer in the course of his/her duty.

Good luck for March 1st !

Article Index

G7 Whistle in the Wind

Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors from the G7 countries met in Palermo, Sicily, on February 17. The talks included the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada.

The meeting focused on ways to revive US growth and prevent a global recession. It was reported that they remain optimistic for continued global growth despite economic troubles in the US and Japan.

In Europe, "growth prospects remain favourable," due in a large part to strong domestic demand in the 12 European Union nations using the euro single currency, the G7 said in a joint closing statement.

"The basic factors that have supported sustained growth in many of the major industrial economies remain in place."

The ministers urged the United States to use both interest rate policies and budget policies – such as tax cuts – to support a rebound in growth.

US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, have said the US economy has ground to almost zero growth but hope hefty interest rate cuts in January can spark a revival.

Italian Treasury Minister Vincenzo Visco, who hosted the session, said Europe was "comforted" by US optimism.

There is no doubt that the prolonged economic difficulties of US imperialism will also affect Europe. Despite this, Japanese Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa said he was confident of a recovery: "Generally speaking, I am not too pessimistic about the US economy. Even though US growth has recently been slowing, I think that it will recover in the middle of the year just as Greenspan has been saying."

However, the G7 ministers urged Japan itself to take further action to strengthen its financial sector and said the Bank of Japan needed to pump more cash into the nation's money supply to stimulate growth.

The G7 meeting did not pass without opposition from those opposed to the neo-liberal agenda of the international financial oligarchy. Hundreds of police had ringed the ancient Roman fortress turned royal palace of the Palazzo dei Normanni where the finance ministers and central bank governors met. Despite that, hundreds of people gathered to demonstrate against the agenda of globalisation that is being imposed on the world’s people by the G7 and the international financial institutions. They militantly shouted slogans against capitalism, demanding jobs for the unemployed and job security.

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