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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.

Your reaction

The government should have the guts to tell us that effective services depend on higher taxation

John Handford, UK
Public services should not be run for private profit. The government should have the guts to tell us that effective services depend on higher taxation and this should fall particularly on the enormous incomes now being received by the super-rich, in business, entertainment and sport.
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.
James, Nottingham, UK

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.
Helen, UK

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.
David Hough, UK

Constructive change is achieved through engagement rather than confrontation

Samuel, UK
This description is such a simple dichotomy. What happened to the mixed economy approach? Surely there are some sectors of the public service that are brilliant and some that are poor (just like in the private sector). Constructive change for the better is best achieved through engagement rather than confrontation.
Samuel, UK

Nurses and doctors are the only people holding the NHS together. The wreckers seem to be the politicians over the last 20 years.
J Davies, UK

What is there to wreck? Public services were wrecked by Maggie and have gotten worse ever since.
Phil T, Oman

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.
Brian W, UK

Blair cannot expect to enjoy another five years without results

Conrad, UK
This government seems reluctant to make any decisions that might be unpopular but all would agree that governments are there to make these difficult decisions. If Blair's speech signals that five years of dithering are over then that is to be welcomed but they will be judged by their performance and if they turn out to be the 'wreckers' then the electorate will know what to do. Patience has run out and Blair cannot expect to enjoy another five years without results.
Conrad, UK

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.
Tim Courtney, UK

You cannot have efficient public services without higher taxes

Andrew, England
I've been a civil servant for the past 12 years. When I started the Tories were in power and I looked forward to Labour replacing them before there wasn't a civil service or a public sector left at all. It saddens me that the extent of Labour's ideas for the public sector seems to be to gradually introduce private sector finance and control. The underlying mantra seems to be the same as under the Tories - "private good, public bad." I wish we would learn from our European neighbours and accept that you cannot have efficient public services without paying higher taxes. Private sector investment alone simply doesn't work. Look at the railways if proof is needed.
Andrew, England

The TUC (and union movements) is the major fundraiser for Labour. Who pays the piper?
Martina, UK

Our public services staff have had enough of being blamed for the nation's ills

Rodger Edwards, UK
I am sure that such a "wreckers" pronouncement by a Tory prime minister would have been received less than favourably by Labour New or Old. The prime minister needs to grasp that our public services and their staff, from road sweepers to university lecturers, have been under sustained assault from governments for 23 years and that people have had enough of being blamed for the nation's ills.
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.
Jenni, Bristol, England

The unions show a lack of strategic thinking

Allan Masson, Cumberland
The unions show a lack of strategic thinking. By attacking the Labour government (who still support the idea of the public paying for their services through taxes) they increase the chances of the Tories (who support the idea of the public paying for a growing proportion of their services out of their own pockets) winning the next election. If the unions persist in their Luddite resistance to reform they will find themselves with a Tory government whose reforms will make Labour's reforms seem like minor tweaks by comparison.
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.
Mark M. Newdick, US/UK

It is time for the unions to withdraw finance for the Labour party

Nigel Tregoning, Falmouth, UK
How Margaret Thatcher must have enjoyed his speech at the weekend, so like her own in the past. Presumably Tony Blair held this view through the 80s and 90s when many of us union/Labour party members were fighting against privatisation of our utilities. He might have shared this with us before he was elected as leader. There is little or no support in Britain for any more privatisation; in fact there is support for nationalisation in the case of the railways. He should also remember that it is the unions who created the once great party that he now leads and it is the unions who by and large finance it. I speak as a union member and ex-Labour party member when I say it disgusts me to see how low that man will descend in his campaign to isolate the trade union movement while still accepting generous sums of union money. It is time for the unions to withdraw finance for the Labour party and support those parties who more closely represent their views and those of the country.
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.
Steve, UK

The wrecker-in-chief is Blair himself

Mark Aldridge, UK
The wrecker-in-chief is Blair himself, who is hell bent on destroying the democratic processes of parliament in the UK. We learn today that the Advance Train Protection System is to be abandoned because it costs too much, despite the recommendations of the Cullen report. Where is your private sector involvement here, Mr Blair, where it is really needed?
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?
John Swire, UK

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?
Jonathan Kelk, UK

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.
Mike Blanshard, England

The prime minister needs to moderate his tone

Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK
I am broadly supportive of this Labour government's aims for public services after 18 years of not just neglect, but butchery and nil investment under the Tories. I do think however that the prime minister needs to moderate his tone and start to think a bit more about the effects of his words on groups of public sector workers who have been subjected to almost constant change in recent years and yet who are, for the most part, prepared to co-operate with the government in the cause of the common good. It's no wonder that public sector workers are suspicious when they see their own efforts apparently denigrated while private fat cats hover to pick at the bones of our public services for profit. These constant weekly changes in tone are simply not helpful.
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.
Mac, Scotland

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
John, France

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.
Ed, UK

The unions have brought the railways and the post office to their knees

Guy Hammond, England
The unions have brought the railways and the post office to their knees. It's time they learnt that these organisations exist to serve the public, not the members of the union. But there is no need for the PM to adopt such a confrontational tone. Simply open up the postal service to competition, for example, and the fee-paying public will soon get the service we want.
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!
Daniel White, Bristol, UK

See also:

04 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Union fury at Blair warning
03 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Blair speech: Key quotes

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