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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Backing the workers

Derek Simpson told BBC News Online that he was "standing on the ledge" with the Labour Party trying to save it from disaster.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Simpson made it clear that he would fight to return the Labour Party to its roots where it supported the needs of ordinary working people.

And he warned that the price of failure would be a rise in support for the National Front.

Mr Simpson, the newly elected general secretary of the huge engineering union Amicus, also denied that there was a new spirit of militancy among the unions.

Open in new window : Trade unions guide
The big unions at TUC 2002

Mr Simpson won a bitter battle for the leadership of Amicus earlier this year, defeating Blair loyalist Sir Ken Jackson.

Although he only formally takes up office in January, he has already caused a considerable stir by refusing to meet Tony Blair at the TUC - although he has since backtracked on this position.

Growing divide

Instead, he said that it was the growing alienation of ordinary people from their leaders that was behind his election - and those of other left-wing leaders.

He told BBC News Online that the only way to reverse that alienation - which applied to political parties as much as unions - was to create institutions and leaders who were more responsive to those concerns.

And he pledged that he would do as much as he could in his union to return it to the tradition of democracy that - by implication - it had recently lost.

Mr Simpson has courted controversy by announcing earlier in the week that he would back his local workers if they decided to tear up any "sweetheart" agreements signed by his predecessor.

But he made it clear to BBC News Online that there would be no going back on that pledge, which he believed was essential to reconnect his members with their union.

No militancy?

Turning to the wider union movement, Mr Simpson disputed that there was a new mood of militancy among workers.

Nor did he think that his election, or the increasing consideration of strike action, was anything to do with the tight labour market, which could make people less worried about losing their jobs if they go on strike.

He said that, on the contrary, the real problem was that working conditions for ordinary people had deteriorated over the past decades.

The number of "real jobs" requiring high skill levels and paying good wages was declining, while there were a growing number of "McDonald" jobs which provided low wages and poor working conditions.

He asserted that even those in work were fed up and felt they were coming under increasing pressure from their bosses.

Mr Simpson told the BBC that he would make it his priority to address these concerns.

And, he implied, the future of the Labour movement was also resting on that goal.


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