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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: BRENDAN BARBER, TUC SECRETARY GENERAL ELECT FEBRUARY 2ND, 2003
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DAVID FROST: An end to the firefighters dispute seems as far away as ever, despite planned talks tomorrow, more strikes are threatened, and John Prescott's plans to force a deal on the firefighters has upset their union brothers who have threatened to pull out of a 40 million fund deal for the Labour Party. A difficult time, you may say, to take over the leadership of the trade union movement but Brendan Barber is here now, the general secretary elect of the TUC and he looks pretty undaunted. Are you hopeful, Brendan, behind the scenes where you've been working a lot and are meeting John Prescott next Thursday, do you have reasons for optimism about an end to this strike?
BRENDAN BARBER: Well I'd like to think that we can get some serious negotiations underway to, to give us a chance of settling the dispute. I mean it's been a difficult dispute, it's caused a lot of hard feelings in a lot of quarters and the sooner it can be settled - with a fair settlement - the sooner the better.
DAVID FROST: And in fact all kinds of modernisation is being pressed for and so on but John Prescott, did his statements about strikes and about forcing a settlement and so on, did that, was that counterproductive or wise?
BRENDAN BARBER: Well that again I think raised strong feelings. I mean the idea of forcing settlements on disputes is very, very unattractive to the trade union movement, for all the reasons that you'd understand. This dispute is only going to be resolved through negotiations the sooner we can get those going the better.
DAVID FROST: Wouldn't it have been simpler just to outlaw strikes for firefighters like they do for the police?
BRENDAN BARBER: No. I mean the right to strike is a very basic right. I mean we live in a democratic society, a free society. If you look around the world the regimes that ban strikes are deeply, deeply undemocratic. These are tyrannies. So that's, that's not the way to address these problems.
DAVID FROST: Is there a crisis between the trade union movement and the government at the moment - there seem lots of flashpoints between them - are relations between the government and the TUC worse than they've been for years?
BRENDAN BARBER: I don't, I don't know if they're worse than they've been for years, there are certainly a whole number of issues that cause tensions between us and I'd like to see some of those issues resolved. I mean take the issue of reform of public services. We've got an enormously welcome commitment to extra funding in the public services, but we've got some of these issues that are unresolved: problems around the idea of the two tier workforce, some groups of workers on one set of terms and conditions, others on inferior terms and conditions. Now that's an issue we've been looking to solve but we've not cracked it yet.
DAVID FROST: And do you think - I know it's not directly with the TUC but you're so in touch with everybody - do you think Labour will get this 40 million over five years that they seem to desperately need?
BRENDAN BARBER: Well as you say, the TUC is not affiliated to the Labour Party, we're not part of the Labour Party in that sense, but as an interested bystander I would like to think that that issue could be resolved. And I must say, as well, I'd like to get away from the idea that some of the reporting of this issue has suggested, that there's some kind of deal that people are looking for in the funding relationship, that we're paying for policy, or anything of that sort. I don't think that's what unions are about -
DAVID FROST: No backhanders.
BRENDAN BARBER: Absolutely.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of the future, do you think that, is it a disagreement where there are disagreements, is it with Tony Blair himself as much as the government? I mean do you think, for instance, the unions would get on better with Gordon Brown as prime minister?
BRENDAN BARBER: No, I don't think this is about personalities. I think the Blair/Brown partnership has done enormously well. I mean there are great achievements to the credit of this government: employment at record levels, that major commitment to public spending to improve our public services. These are big, positive achievements that stand to the credit of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown but the sooner we can resolve some of the problem areas, the sooner, perhaps, we'll be concentrating on the positives.
DAVID FROST: And when would you - you said there's got to be negotiation in the firefighters dispute - when would you predict it will be over?
BRENDAN BARBER: I don't make predictions but I would like to think that in the next day or two we'll be able to make some progress to get negotiations started again.
BRENDAN BARBER: Glenn Hoddle said once: "I don't make predictions and I never will," which was slightly illogical. Thank you very much indeed for being with us.
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