Date: Sun, 22 Sep 1996 02:31:02 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
Subject: Unions Warn British Labor Party
/** 284.0 **/
** Topic: Unions Warn British Labr Party **

Labour faces conference backlash: Unions warn Blair over suicidal split

By Jill Sherman and Philip Bassett, The Times, 14 September 1996

TRADE union leaders said yesterday that the Labour leadership would be committing political suicide if it went ahead with plans to sever the party's links with the unions.

Tony Blair is now bracing himself for a backlash at the party conference this month when trade unions may seek revenge for his repeated attempts to undermine them. John Monks, the TUC General Secretary and an ally of Mr Blair, delivered his second attack on the leadership this week when he said the conference in Blackpool had been dominated by confusion not clarity and demanded a surer touch from Labour.

Mr Monks is said to be furious that Mr Blair's plans to curb union power had overshadowed the TUC conference. But union leaders reserved their sharpest attacks for Stephen Byers, the Shadow Employment Minister, who identified himself as the source of the reports in several newspapers, including The Times, that Labour would break the union link.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, called on the Labour leader to move Mr Byers from his post as industrial affairs spokesman after the shadow minister discussed the issue with journalists over a dinner in Blackpool on Wednesday. Stephen Byers should carry a black box recorder so that after each accident we can all analyse exactly what happened, Mr Edmonds said.

Mr Byers had damaged his credibility with Labour and the unions, he added. After a decent time, it would be wise to consider that he be moved sideways.

John Prescott, the Labour deputy leader, who was unaware of the proposal when he arrived in Blackpool, shrugged off the row, suggesting: This is massive speculation by a press looking for a major story.

Mr Byers told four political journalists of a contingency plan to ballot the entire party membership on ending the link with the unions if there was a wave of strikes in the first summer of a Labour government.

Yesterday the Labour leadership tried to distance Mr Blair from the reports, saying that no such plans were being drawn up by him. Mr Byers said that the journalists' version of the events would win the Booker Prize for Fiction. But the four journalists, from The Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express stood by their story. In interviews later, Mr Byers conceded that the historic links with the unions which founded the Labour Party in 1900 could be severed within five years.

The Tories immediately capitalised on the confusion, saying that Mr Byers held the briefing in a shameless attempt to win votes from Middle England. John Major said that Labour seemed to be in an almost daily state of confusion. What seems to be happening is their spindoctors have whispered something in private and when it becomes public, it is denied by the leadership.

Lew Adams, general secretary of the train drivers' union, Aslef, said that Labour would be committing political suicide if it cut the union link. We are not looking for confrontation with any government, he said. I am fed up to the teeth with the way in which this TUC conference has been persistently hijacked by the politicians. These statements seem designed to achieve some form of popularism with the voters by kicking the trade unions.

Publicly, union leaders accepted the firm disavowal of the reports by Tony Blair's office and by deputy leader John Prescott but privately many remain suspicious that the reports do indicate the direction of Labour's thinking about the trade unions.