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Breakfast with Frost
BBC Breakfast with Frost interview with Sir Bill Morris, General Secretary TGWU broadcast on 29 June, 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

Sir Bill Morris
The Government has operated in an ideological free zone

PETER SISSONS: Bill Morris has notched up 40 years in the trade union movement. For the last ten he's been one of its most influential voices as leader of the Transport and General Workers Union. He's spoken out against government policy, on public services, asylum seekers and workers' rights. But now he's retiring and he's accepted a knighthood so, is he giving up the class struggle? Sir Bill joins us now, and welcome. I can remember Bill when governments appeared to live in fear of the T&G and the AEU under Jones and Scanlon, they all virtually wrote pay policy and had tanks on lawns and things like that. It wasn't like that for you.

SIR BILL MORRIS: No it wasn't and I don't think that in a democracy either party should live in fear of each other, it is about doing what's right, what's right for workers and indeed what's right for the country.

PETER SISSONS: What would you say your biggest achievement was?

SIR BILL MORRIS: Well, I'm quite proud that I've given a voice to those in society who haven't got a voice - asylum seekers and of course refugees and the internal reforms within my own union, particularly ensuring that we've got a vibrant and robust policy and diversity. I believe that the leadership of my union should look like its members and we've achieved that.

PETER SISSONS: And the biggest disappointment?

SIR BILL MORRIS: Biggest disappointment - perhaps not managed to put together a merger, say, of two of the largest unions that would have made a big difference both economically, socially and politically.

PETER SISSONS: Which two are you talking about there? Your own and ...

SIR BILL MORRIS: Well, we've talked about a number but that's one thing that I regret not having done but the balance sheets, I think, is on my side.

PETER SISSONS: Has New Labour disappointed you?

SIR BILL MORRIS: No, no, not at all. We arrived at the point where the current Labour government will shortly establish the longest continuous period of any Labour government in office. That's a tremendous achievement. What it now has to do is to look to see how it can renew its own thoughts and ideas for the third term. For far too long in the second term the government has operated in a sort of ideological free zone. I think that they need to abandon the sort of what works philosophy of the third way, and move ourselves on.

PETER SISSONS: You're kinder to New Labour than your successor, Tony Woodley, who says that they've been badly let down by the government.

SIR BILL MORRIS: Well, every single member of the T&G has a right to speak for themselves. I am the General Secretary and I articulate the policies of the Transport and General Workers' Union as it currently stands.

PETER SISSONS: Tony Woodley is among that new generation of union leaders who've been elected recently, who've already been nicknamed the awkward squad. What do you think the implications are of these new left wingers who are now running the biggest unions? Do you think the government is in for a rougher ride, the questioning of the entire Union-Labour link?

SIR BILL MORRIS: You know, there's a tremendous opportunity here for both governments and trade unions to face up to the challenges that I've just talked about a minute ago. I don't think that we can develop the needs of the country on the basis of everyone sort of reviewing themselves and that's why I think that if we are to take this relationship forward by giving the opportunity for trade unions to contribute positively, then perhaps there should be a joint commission of, say, the Labour Party and the Trade Unions, chaired by neutral person, to look at the relationship for the 21st Century. One thing is clear, we are not about sort of money for policy, you know, the things that we ask for we should get them as rightly about social justice and a fairer society. We will not buy policy for money. We have to decouple any question of money and policy.

PETER SISSONS: So you'll put in the money, regardless of what the government's policies are?

SIR BILL MORRIS: Well we either believe in the government and the policies or we don't. It's not a question of money and policy. The cash for policies and money for policies destroyed the Tory government and it should not destroy our movement. We have to make a qualitative difference. Of course we support the party. It's like going down to your club.

PETER SISSONS: But your successor again is harder on the government than you appear to be. He says they will look harder at the contribution if the government doesn't deliver.

SIR BILL MORRIS: Well the fact of the matter is when business tried to buy policy for money we say it's political corruption and if it's wrong for business then surely it must be wrong for trade unions. Ours is a relationship built on common values, shared tradition and shared history and it is to enhance the opportunity for working people to have a better life, that's what we are in business for. We're not in business on the basis of trading policy for money.

PETER SISSONS: Does it matter to you who leads the Labour Party, could you do as well with Gordon Brown?

SIR BILL MORRIS: Who leads the Labour Party is a matter for Labour Party members to determine. We know have a one member, one vote system within the Labour Party, the current leader was elected on that basis and I'm sure that the future leader will be elected on exactly the same basis.

PETER SISSONS: And what does the future hold for you, I mean you're far too young to retire. You're clearly at the height of your powers. There was talk of the Governor General ship of Jamaica.

SIR BILL MORRIS: That was a figment of somebody's imagination, there is no vacancy and there is no offer on that particular job.

PETER SISSONS: But you'd be in the market for a job of that kind?

SIR BILL MORRIS: I am quite content to continue to do some things, and one of the things that I do now is the Chancellor of the University of Technology in Jamaica, I want to spend a little more time working on the campus, helping the young people and I will continue to make a contribution to the issues of the day in public life. I will be off the payroll of the Transport and General Workers' Union but I'm not going away.


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