With Berlusconi's help, Tony Blair is seeking to prevent the European Union from banning the anti-competitive deals which permit the private takeover of public services. The result is that public sector workers will continue to lose pay, pensions and holidays as private operators change their terms of employment. The government is now proposing to deny agency workers the legal protections afforded to employees. Those who contest these policies, the Prime Minister suggested a fortnight ago, are "wreckers" and "small c conservatives".

So the abiding mystery surrounding labour relations in the United Kingdom is this: given that the government, both in declaration and in practice, is the enemy of workers' movements, why do they continue to fund it?

About one third of the Labour Party's funding comes from the unions. Many of their members are beginning to wonder what they are buying. Last summer the GMB halved its annual donation to the party, in protest against privatisation. Both Unison, the biggest donor, and the firefighters' union are currently reviewing their support. The election of Bob Crow as leader of the RMT last week may suggest that the unions are beginning to desert the party they built.

But this will happen slowly, if at all. Most union leaders, while fiercely critical of Blair's policies, insist that they retain more influence over the government by lobbying from within. It is hard to see what the evidence might be.

In his forward to the 1998 Fairness at Work white paper, Tony Blair insisted that the policies it contained would "draw a line under the issue of industrial relations law. ... Even after the changes we propose, Britain will have the most lightly regulated labour market of any leading economy in the world." Blair has proved true to his word. The government will implement those European directives which it has failed to undermine. It may introduce a few concessions for workers in privately financed hospitals. But otherwise Labour, as Blair has warned, has nothing to offer. The Confederation of British Industry, which does not give the party a penny, swings far more weight with Tony Blair than all the hard-earned millions scraped together by the people whom Labour is supposed to represent. It would make as much sense now for the workers to give their money to the Tories.

It is time, in other words, for the trades unions to embrace their role as wreckers. The party they created has disowned them, so they must disinherit it. They must destroy the system which guarantees that power remains the preserve of the parties of big business.

It doesn't really matter which of the small progressive parties -- the Greens, the Socialist Alliance, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, even the Lib Dems -- they choose to support instead. What counts is that there is an effective radical opposition, which has the resources to start snatching millions of votes from Labour. Parties, like companies, always move towards those from whom they wish to take trade. One of the reasons why Labour has crept so far to the right is that this is the territory on which it must fight its only serious competitor.

Damage limitation, which is the most the unions who work within government can hope for, does not precipitate change. Workers' representatives will swing no serious political weight until they can force the government to respond to their agenda, rather than being forced to respond to the government's. Even the GMB, which is using the funds it has withdrawn from Labour to advertise its dissatisfaction, is wasting its money: Blair knows that he has nothing to fear from it while there is no radical alternative to this government.

It is not hard to see why the unions are reluctant to let go. Labour was their creation, and its construction was an extraordinary achievement. But the creature has lumbered away from them, and it works now for those they sought to oppose. Only by building a new one can they hope to lure it back.




Review of a Book By William Krehm, COMER Publications, 2002

�Towards a Non-Autistic Economy � A Place at the Table for Society�

Bruce Buchanan

Policy making in relation to economic affairs has become so specialized and remote from common human experience, its consequences so unpredictable yet fateful, its methods so questionable, that democracy itself seems to be in jeopardy. From a common sense perspective it has also become ever more apparent that economics is not a science, but, in the words of Henderson, is �politics in disguise.�1 In this vigorous, wise and graceful work William Krehm contributes for purposes of public debate some of the economic insights needed by an alert citizenry entering the new century.

Among his summary thoughts: �[To] address the heart of our problems we have need of a serious economic theory. What passes for one today is little more than a decoy� (p. 176). While some books are to be tasted, some chewed and some digested, this is a book to be mined for its nuggets and insights. Krehm offers us the considerable benefits of his experience towards what can only be a communal enterprise. The book should take a worthy place beside works of Hazel Henderson, John McMurtry, David Korten, Marjorie Kelly and selected others.

There can scarcely be a more important subject for the future of society and mankind on earth than the ways in which speculative capital has taken on a self-justifying life of its own � the autism of which Krehm speaks � to exploit peoples, societies and environments. The author addresses his complex subject forthrightly, and necessarily makes demands on the reader for thoughtful attention. In coming to grips with the realities, Krehm recognizes the complexities; he points to the kinds of methods (but requires no specialized knowledge of his readers) � informed by mathematics, systems concepts, economics, finance and political processes � as needed for adequate understanding and the development of realistic strategies.

His audience will include men and women of the civil commons who wish to be more fully aware of the issues now shaping our world, as well as students of politics and economics, those planning careers in leadership, and current teachers of eco