Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Brothers' Reaction Ungracious but Understandable

My picture shows members of the All Russian Federation of trade unions in the 1920s but the dowdy truculence of the people pictured seemed to reflect something of the spirit of yesterday[alright, I confess, I couldn't raise any pics of TUC on Google images]. From one point of view the brothers were as unfraternal as you could possibly imagine: the RMT walked out, the audience ensured Blair's jokes died on his lips, some sat staring straight ahead like zombies and his speech was scarcely applauded.

And yet, this was the most successful leader in Labour history; since he has come to power he has done more for working peoples' material situation than anyone since the Attlee government: the minimum wage, year on year economic growth, money poured into public services, public sector hugely expanded. As Blair said, perhaps a bit too explicitly, millions of working people for the first time, could now afford a holiday abroad. It's some record.

And yet, one could understand the froideur. This has been the business friendly government in modern times. Blair has clung delighedly to the employment law half nelsons into which Thatcher had forced the unions. Because of their negative electoral effect in the past, Blair has regularly berated them and treated them with near contempt to prove to Middle England that he is not in their pocket. Trade union leaders have complained bitterly of how they have been excluded from Labour's inner counsels and they have attacked Blair's misguided foreign policy adventures. All this while they have provided much of the funding for the three election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Blair is used to rousing his audience and sending them away with a happy tune to sing. This time the old trouper's magic failed. Sorry Tony, it was a crap gig, but you'll have to accept that this one was ruined in advance, substantially by your good self.

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