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EDITIONS
Monday, 10 September, 2001, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Grassroots fears at TUC
TUC delegates in Brighton are not in a happy mood
TUC delegates in Brighton are not in a happy mood
By BBC News Online's Steve Schifferes at the TUC conference in Brighton

Delegates at the TUC conference fear that morale in the public services is plummeting as privatisation is spreading - and have little confidence that the government will listen.

But few are prepared to abandon the historic link between the Labour party and the trade unions, and most would prefer to avoid a confrontation that they may not be able to win.

Libby Swindells: morale rock-bottom
Libby Swindells: Morale rock-bottom
Libby Swindells is a public sector worker in Lancashire sheltered housing, and represents GMB workers.

She says that when she started working for the local authority 18 years ago, people respected her work.

Now, she says, morale is at rock-bottom - as a result of the increasing use of agency staff in her sheltered home.

The agency workers - who are employed by the private sector - have far worse pay and conditions, and much less training, than her public sector colleagues, and she believes standards have suffered.

Public service dismay

Her worries are echoed by Helen Caukwell, a delegate from Bradford who represents public workers in the employment service.

Helen Caukwell: will government listen?
Helen Caukwell: Will government listen?

She says she has seen many jobs, from typists to security guards, outsourced, with lower wages and worse conditions.

She is worried, like many others in the employment service, by proposals to eliminate security screens when the benefits agency merges with the jobs service, and believes there will be many more assaults on staff.

Already two offices in London are going on strike over this issue.

Helen Caukwell says she hopes Tony Blair will be listening to public sector concerns.

She says that they have been able to have more meetings with ministers than under the Tories, but no one seems to take their concerns seriously.

"There has been so much change... People are concerned about it, how it will end up," she told BBC News Online.

'Labour a disgrace'

Turlough MacDaid, a theatre worker from Edinburgh who is a Bectu delegate at the conference, says that the Labour party attitude towards privatisation is a disgrace.

Turlough MacDaid: Labour 'a disgrace'
Turlough MacDaid: Labour 'a disgrace'

He believes that the trade unions have had to fight every inch for the minimum wage, for employment rights, and now to preserve the public sector.

But he argues that the unions, which founded the Labour party, will be around long after Tony Blair and his version of New Labour are gone.

Others were not so sure. One Unison delegate said that she thought the unions were being forced into a corner and may have no choice but to fight back or risk elimination.

And Helen Caukwell feared that Labour would not listen, which would be a road to disaster.

Libby Swindells said that everything was now driven by the need to save money - and there was no sense that Labour valued the services of public workers.

Listening to Patricia Hewitt's television interview this morning, she said, was the first time she heard anyone from Labour speak with respect about the public sector workers at the sharp end.

The fear and pessimism of public sector workers - at least those attending the TUC Congress - now runs deep.

If Labour is to have any hopes of transforming public services, it will need to tackle those fears.

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 ON THIS STORY
Libby Swindells
Expresses her views about privitisation

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