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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 15:14 GMT
Public services row: Are opponents really 'wreckers'?
The leader of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has hit back at UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's assertion that the modernisation of public services was a battle between "reformers and wreckers".
TUC general secretary John Monks reacted in anger to the prime minister's comments, calling them "juvenile" and accusing him of not taking public services seriously enough.
But Home Secretary David Blunkett insisted that the prime minister's remarks were not aimed at the vast majority of union members who had been "making a magnificent contribution over the past five years to the success of this government".
What is your verdict on the prime minister's comments? Are they justified or unwarranted? Is it fair to describe opponents of the modernisation of public services as "wreckers"?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
John Handford, UK
The fact is that in France and Germany you MUST join up to a health insurance scheme, which involves spending a few hundred pounds a year to ensure that you will be covered should you need hospital treatment. These systems have been created by governments much more socialist than ours. Therefore, I agree with the Tories that we should look at the European models where you pay and get the service you asked for. The NHS is a dinosaur supported by the cavemen that make-up the trade unions.
Yes public services need addressing and yes some reform is necessary, but the vast majority of people in this country could not afford to pay for health care out of their own pockets and public funds through taxation would still be required as a safety net for these people. Just go for it and raise tax for higher earners and do it now.
The gap between the rich and poor of this country is growing, hence the mass unrest among the very people who have waited for a Labour Government to help them end the ME ME ME culture of the Tory years.
Coming from the man who's done more to wreck the country since Maggie, calling those who oppose him "wreckers" is a bit rich. It's going to take the UK a long time to recover from Tony Blair and the way he's destroying our parliamentary system. Name calling of anyone who speaks against him is not a good way to govern.
Nurses and doctors are the only people holding the NHS together. The wreckers seem to be the politicians over the last 20 years.
What is there to wreck? Public services were wrecked by Maggie and have gotten worse ever since.
Anybody who does not agree with Tony Blair will be labelled a wrecker - no matter if they are Conservative or not. It's whatever this week's sound bite is. Stalin had the same attitude, opponents were labelled lunatics and locked away.
The government's message is "You are either with us or you are attempting to undermine public services." If the prime minister wishes to persuade the people of the UK that he is not a supreme dictator then this is the wrong way to do it. If he wishes to go down as the man with the biggest ego currently on earth, then he's right on track.
The TUC (and union movements) is the major fundraiser for Labour. Who pays the piper?
Rodger Edwards, UK
Having seen what privatising Railtrack achieved, I'd call critics of the new proposals realists and Tony's government blinkered. New Labour has no effective opposition within Parliament so naturally groups outside Westminster will challenge the excesses of the government. Tony has got carried away with the notion that "if you're not with us you're terrorists" nonsense, like Maggie's "there is no alternative." Be careful how far you go down this road Tony, remember the poll tax protests and the even more recent fuel tax protests. There are choices and not all of them involve the ballot box.
Allan Masson, Cumberland
There is nothing a trade union can accomplish that good legislation, especially in a democracy, can achieve even better. A modern trade union should be concerned with training, job relocation and change management (as they impact employees). If they do not change they will become as irrelevant as many of the industries they have already destroyed.
Nigel Tregoning, Falmouth, UK
As usual, everyone wants something done about public services NOW but won't let the government get on and do what needs to be done. On the one hand you've got the Tories who are terrified that the government might actually succeed in rescuing the NHS and on the other you've got an alliance of groups whose mantra is "just pour in more money and everything will be all right." We deserve everything we get in this country, and are lucky there is anybody in politics willing to at least have a go at saving our public services.
Mark Aldridge, UK
Although there will undoubtedly have been friction over the government's plans, it would have made much more sense for Blair to have couched his comments in terms of conciliation, consistent with his other recent remarks about public sector workers. It looks like he's blowing hot and cold. There is a distinct risk that this fighting talk will raise the hackles of the unions and make them resistant to even the most mild and measured reform. In a government supposedly over-concerned with spin and PR, this strikes me as something of a mistake.
The government must reform the public sector and it is likely to do some things which will upset the unions - but why not have those battles on the issues, when they need to be fought?
Using such insults against opponents is the kind of thing that really puts me off politics. It's hardly well-formed rational debating, is it?
Many comments here seem to denigrate the Tories and yet the power of the unions was curtailed dramatically under them - and it needed doing!
If the Tories had suggested such private involvement we would have had New Labour screaming about "privatisation by the back door". Now that it is New Labour policy it is fine to involve the private sector. What a bunch of hypocrites.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK
Robert from Nottingham is wrong to criticise the Tories on public services. Independent figures have shown that since the last war, the government who has invested least in the public sector has been the New Labour government. If you are looking for wreckers, look no further than Downing Street.
I agree with the idea of private sector participation if only to reduce the power of the trade union barons. When I worked in one of your hospitals and the union for ancillary staff called its members out on strike we had floor cleaners stopping ambulances at the gate and deciding whether it was an emergency or not. If they, with all their wisdom, decided not then the patient was turned away. The unions want total control and if you let them you will return to the turmoil of the 60s and 70s
Yes I would say that they are fair comments. On the one hand you have the Tories who are trying to run down everything in the hope of creating an apathetic attitude in people, and on the other you have these union heads who I do not think represent the views held by their members. They seem to be just out to complain for the sake of it - like an ingrained hostility against even the mention of the private sector. For them the private sector = evil and that is the end of it. Besides it is also publicity for them, and makes people see them in the public eye in case they actually forget who they were.
Guy Hammond, England
How sad it is to see the government yet again desperately struggling to avoid responsibility for anything that goes wrong in this country. Anybody that dares to criticise or offer an alternative solution is instantly vilified by the PR obsessed PM and the cabinet. Tony Blair's continuing refusal to listen to what the public wants risks him going the way of Margaret Thatcher. I think the New Labour "experiment" is over. Bring back the Tories. At least you always knew where you stood with them, even if you didn't like it!
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